A Christmas Carol: Mischief, Magic & Timeless Moral Messaging

Leeds Playhouse (At Home)

Having rehearsed A Christmas Carol with live, socially distanced audiences planned, Leeds Playhouse has been hit with ‘COVID-closure’ once again. Pivoting swiftly, they’ve taken their show online and audiences now have the opportunity to watch Dickens’ classic tale from their sofas.

So, what’s Dickensian Leeds like from sofas in front of screens? Adapted by Deborah McAndrew, this production is a pretty spooky affair packed to the gunnels with ghosts and a good mix of the light-hearted and the atmospherically grim. While many choose to play down the dark underbelly of Scrooge’s journey to redemption, Director Amy Leach embraces it here, giving generous stage time to the darkest elements of the plot while never losing sight of the wholesome heart.

Calling on the talents of Composer and Musical Director John Biddle, Set and Costume Designer Haley Grindle and Lighting Designer Chris Daley, this production casts a ghoulishly smoke-filled spell as things go bump, scratch and clunk behind the scenes… Grindle’s work in particular deserves heaps of praise here as her set and costume designs conjure something between a showy travelling circus and a more traditionally dim and dank backdrop. Scrooge and his fellow worldly characters may well be walking around in classic Victorian tailoring, but supernatural characters are following their own quirky rules and through this we meet with some fantastic visuals.

We also meet one hell of a hard-working cast, with each actor taking a number of roles. Jack Lord is more fiery than frosty as the ogre that is Ebenezer Scrooge, really playing up the breathless growl of the man – in fact, Lord sometimes delivers Scrooge’s rants with such force that I did worry now and again for his oxygen levels… All in the name of art, eh? Stephen Collins gives Cratchit both plenty of sympathetic likability and something resembling a rare backbone, allowing the put-upon clerk to stand tall on occasion rather than playing the role with nose to the ground and neck under a heel.

Dickens’ ghostly characters take some great star turns too, with Everal A Walsh giving Marley the sense of unnerving desperation that he is so worthy of while Tessa Parr gives us an eerily infantile Ghost Of Christmas Past. Lisa Howard arrives in a burst of colour as the Ghost of Christmas Present before the ominous Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrives to anonymously loom over all we see. Howard is also an excellent Mrs Dilber and a fantastic Mrs Fezziwig to Walsh’s jolly Fezziwig, it has to be said.

Completing the cast are a talented bunch – Dan Parr’s sparky, lively Fred becomes a complex, brooding Young Scrooge who is perfectly paired with Nadia Nadarajah as both sweet Little Fan and disillusioned Belle. Lladel Bryant completes the picture as both Dick Wilkins and Topper – both of whom inject a good dose of jovial youth to the tale. And Tiny Tim? A very sweet little puppet boy designed by Rachael Canning and brought to life by the cast under direction of Elisa De Grey.

And finally, once again Leeds Playhouse impress with their inclusive approach, providing a range of access options including seamlessly embedding signing (BSL Consultant: Adam Bassett, Devisers: Stephen Collins & Nadia Nadarajah) within the action rather than relegating it to an actor or interpreter in the margins. To craft a piece of theatre like this, which embraces all audience members with such dedication, is to once again prove why Leeds Playhouse deserves the accolades it receives.

In truth, A Christmas Carol gets a bit of a bad rap these days. With so many productions bringing Scrooge to the stage most years, but most particularly this year, some are wondering why and whether this really needs to be the case. Productions like this one show, unequivocally, that Dickens’ tale is timeless and remains one of the greatest ever penned. With all the mischief, magic and moral messaging, long may it reign say I!

Leeds Playhouse’s A Christmas Carol can be streamed until December 23rd 2020 – tickets here.

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