Satisfying bumps in the night

A not so merry Christmas for Scrooge, played by Joe Servi from the Ghost of Christmas Present played by Angela Wynter. Picture: Robert Day

Birmingham Rep

****

IT IS almost 170 years, December 17 is the anniversary, since Ebenezer Scrooge first encountered the ghosts and spirits that put the fear of God into his miserly, penny-pinching soul, and that 1843 spirit of Christmas past has become as much part of festivities as holly and ivy.

The original is a powerful morality tale which not only popularised the phrase Merry Christmas but helped popularise both Christmas itself as a time of goodwill and giving to the poor and needy.

This latest version, from Birmingham Rep, adapted by Bryony Lavery with music and lyrics by Jason Carr avoids trying to be too clever and keeps very much to the original story aided by an excellent set from Ti Green cleverly lit by Mark Doubleday.

We all know the tale of the miserly Scrooge who is visited by the ghost of his seven year’s dead partner Jacob Marley (Marc Akinfolarin) and the ghosts of Christmasses past (Guy Lewis), present (Angela Wynter) and future who make him see the error of his ways.

Christmas Future being a huge puppet operated by a cast of six – War Horse has a lot to answer for – and looking like a giant turkey carcass with the addition of spidery claws.

Guy Lewis as Bob Cratchit

Matthew Ashforde, who played Scrooge, has broken his jaw and so Jo Servi, who was to play Jacob Marley, was returned to the land of the living as Ebenezer, learning the part only on Sunday, two days before Press night, which made his excellent performance the more remarkable – although quite what youngsters made of the obviously white young Scrooges played by Iddon Jones and Roddy Peters turning into the obviously black old Scrooge of Jo Servi I have no idea.

The ghosts were perhaps not as scary, or larger than life as in some productions, Guy Lewis, for instance gave us a Christmas Past much in the Dr Who mould, as he showed Scrooge his unhappy childhood and blossoming romance as a young man, before pursuit of wealth took over his life.

Angela Wynter was more fun-loving, a lady bountiful as she showed Scrooge his happy go lucky nephew Fred  (Roddy Peters again) and downtrodden, impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit (Guy Lewis again) celebrating Christmas and even toasting the miserable old Scrooge’s health.

Christmas future is not so much scary in itself as for what it portrays as a terrified Scrooge sees people celebrating his death and undertaker, laundress and cleaner off to the pawn shop with his meagre possessions, while Cratchit’s crippled son, Tiny Tim, is no more. Enough to turn anyone into Mr Nice Guy for the rest of their life.

I am not quite sure why chairs were fixed to walls in the bleak, London tenement set, or why people were sitting on them, halfway up a wall, but it was effective, in a strange sort of surreal way, as was the pit below the stage from where appeared Scrooge’s office, his bed and where he disappears to his death.

Director Tessa Walker manages the task of mixing sinister and scary with light hearted and even at times funny while Jason Carr has produced a mix of jolly and sombre songs played by an excellent band under Tim Jackson.

The result is an entertaining telling of the traditional festive tale which is not too scary for youngsters and is full of Christmas spirit. To 04-01-14.

Roger Clarke

 

And full of Christmas spirit

****

THIS brand new production of the Charles Dickens' classic was 'spooked' when lead actor Matthew Ashforde had to miss the opening performances with a fractured jaw - not suffered in rehearsals though.

But one man's misfortune can be another man's opportunity, and Jo Servi stepped up from the role of Jacob Marley's ghost to play the old skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge with considerable success.

While he may not have appeared quite as miserable about Christmas as, say Alastair Sim was in the 1951 film, he was superb in the scenes where, having been haunted by ghosts, he realised the error of his ways and turned into a Mr Nice Guy.

This is the first show directed for the Rep by Tessa Walker, the theatre's Associate Director, and she has certainly made her mark.

This is no stereotyped version of the much-loved Christmas story. When the musical play opened I wondered 'what the dickens' was going on, with people perched on chairs bolted to the set high above the stage, and old fashioned street lamps being wheeled around stage by the cast.

But suddenly a huge trap door opens centre stage and up rises Scrooge's office where he works with his underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit (Guy Lewis). The transformation clearly impresses children in the audience, and even more surprises are in store with Ti Green's designs.

While Angela Wynter is a bundle of fun as The Ghost of Christmas Present, there's nothing too scary for the kids to cope with until Christmas Yet To Come turns up, and wow! This spectre is an enormous creature with a head like a vulture, operated by six people...War Horse with wings, and an attitude, if you like.

A very impressive performance is given by Roddy Peters as the kindly Nephew Fred, and the enjoyable Christmas show includes some pleasant music and lyrics by by Jason Carr. To 04.01.14

 Paul Marston

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