While the energy and spirit of the cast is to be admired, this adaptation feels as though it is just lacking in magic, that makes it feel over sombre.
The Rose Theatre is known for putting on charming Christmas adaptations that are enjoyed by the whole family – filled with heaps of magic, charming effects and staged engagingly. For this year’s production (and i hate to be a Scrooge about it) but there is something that is massively missing from this adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which feels as though it is a bit stilted and lacking in the magic – despite a number of suitably chilling moments that reflect the original story well.
This production begins at Raggedy School in which the children are unhappy with the way in which their benefactor Ebenezer Scrooge doesn’t help them in any shape or form. But they are soon startled by the appearance of Charlie Dickens, who encourages them to believe that the actions of one person can make a huge impact on the world as a whole, leading them to believe that they can re-write Scrooge’s story and make her change her ways. While Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s adaptation is an interesting way to frame the story to allow a different perspective of Scrooge, the way in which scenes seem to stop and start to allow for other characters to reflect on what is happening makes it feel stilted and difficult to engage with – despite the themes of redemption and power of compassion shining through.
There is a sense that this is an adaptation that is aiming to please older children and adults (the age guidance is 5+ slightly ambitious given the upsetting scene in which Scrooge’s brother falls through the ice and shown in a slightly graphic way), which is absolutely fine but I did feel as though the script was slightly too heavy on trying to highlight how relevant this story is to us living in these times. Although this is punctuated nicely by Eamonn O’Dwyer’s fun original songs, this production feels less about Scrooge’s redemption as it is about reminding us all that we all have to do what we can to change the world. It also lacks the magic that you would expect, with only puffs of what looks like flour or something similar suggesting any magic is happening and the overall vibe is a sombre mood – you don’t come out feeling uplifted by this story of redemption.
Directed by Rosie Jones, the production really makes the most of its young cast – all of whom have a wonderful energy and commitment to their roles, while embracing the joy that is Olivia Shouler’s choreography adding just a touch lightness in places. The production is also suitably authentic in terms of its set and costume design (by Frankie Bradshaw), which reflects the victorian setting well, while Josh Pharo’s lighting and video design is suitably atmospheric in all of the right places (the scene in which Marley emerges scared me a little bit too to be honest).
While Penny Layden is a suitably brusque Scrooge, I did feel as though the character wasn’t given enough time to transform her views in life with the periods spent with the spirits feeling slightly rushed. But her gleeful joy at the end is hard to resist and Layden does give a detailed performance as Scrooge struggles to deal with her past. For me though, Elexi Walker as Dickens delivers the most charming performance, adding a bit of brightness to what is a really sombre family show.
Overall, while the attention to detail and performances are strong in this production, this adaptation doesn’t seem fully certain of who it is trying to appeal to which leaves it feeling muddled and lacking in magic.
By Emma Clarendon
A Christmas Carol continues to play at the Rose Theatre until the 2nd January 2023.