Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

carol top

David Weller as Gordon, Pip Olliver as Thelma, Denise Phillips as Phoebe, Kate Pilling as Felicity and Sandra Haynes as Mercedes. Pictures: Emily White

The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society "A Christmas Carol"

Highbury Theatre Centre


For any aficionado of Charles Dickens this version of his famous classic is an absolute . . . must is not quite the right word here . . . perhaps . . . trial would fit the situation better,

All the elements are there, more or less, with more less than more, and although it is a long time since I read the novella, I cannot remember the original mentioning conversations over a police radio nor was there a section devoted to a fatality involving several supermarket trolleys and Bob Cratchitt, but perhaps I read the abridged edition.

The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society A Christmas Carol (pause for breath) had an inauspicious start when Denise Phillips came smiling and welcoming on stage as Mrs Phoebe Reece, leading figure of the TFAHETGDS, for short(ish), and after winning a battle with the microphone, she had to announce most of the cast were held up in traffic and held an audition to select a new Scrooge from the audience.

The audition consisting of picking on some poor bloke too slow in averting his gaze. Luckily, a relative term in this case, the cast arrived in time to save him, but sadly not the audience.

The TFAHETGDS have tried their hand at Shakespeare, at French farce, murder and on and on, and have shown remarkable consistency, every production has been a consistent disaster, a production to be not so much enjoyed as endured. They manage to make bad merely a worthy ambition, an aspiration unlikely to ever be achieved.

Timing is hit and miss, cues negotiable, the script, yes there was one apparently, vaguely within touching distance of the original story, while the acting is . . . perhaps best not to go too far down that haunted avenue.

It is also glorious, wonderfully daft fun, and, let’s be honest, you gotta be pretty damn good to be that mind blowingly bad.


Pip Olliver as Scrooge and Kate Pilling as his dying sister

Anything that could go wrong did, as, remarkably, did things that couldn’t possibly go wrong – could they? Many problems were being laid at the door of Adrian who we never saw, who was off stage in charge of all the technicals, sound, lights and stuff, but was distracted, it seems, by spending his time reading some magazine or other.

It was never fully stated but reading between the lines it appears he may have been researching female anatomy in a glossy magazine . . . perhaps he was studying to be a gynaecologist or something, who knows.

Gordon, played with a, ‘ecky th’ump” Northern accent by’t David Weller, came in as Marley, Mrs Cratchitt, and ghosts of Christmas past and present, all played with equal . . . let’s just say, all played by him.

Felicity, Kate Pilling, weighed in as Fred, Scrooge’s cheery nephew, as well as anyone else hanging around – she also did a dance routine to Let's Go Dancing, Strictly’s theme tune, which lasted almost as long as the TV programme, filling in while waiting for Mrs Reece to transform from Tiny Tim in cloak and crutch to Fred’s wife in the emerald green dress.

This was the dress she had told us about at great length but hadn’t had time to change into for a scene earlier in the play and we were all suitably unexcited to finally see it. The emerald green dress also came with the strange accessory of an Irish accent.

Then there was Mercedes, in her neck brace, who, after the accident with the trolleys was unable to do any benz  . . . (all right, please yourself then).

Sandra Haynes limped and shuffled her way through as Bob Cratchitt as well as Scrooge’s lost love Belle wearing an out of control wig, which had a hint of Old English sheepdog crossed with Michael Fabricant. Scrooge, true to his calling, preferred an affair with cash, so she dumped him before trying to see her way off stage through the flowing curtain of golden locks..

And that brings us to Scrooge! Many people add ham to the festive feast and if you are short this year, then Pip Olliver as Thelma has plenty to spare with a performance so far over the top it was dusted with snow.

This was real method acting, the method being in yer face and ignore me at your peril, not so much a tour de force as just out and out force. A joy to watch, driving everything along.

There are some lovely touches, the interference on the sound system, over, lights that may or may not be on or off at the right time, the chiming bells for what seemed like 15 o’clock, scenery from doors to beds to gravestones falling over, the Cratchitt house with its dining suite of an occasional table and one chair creating some innovative thinking and seating for meals – oh and don’t even think about mentioning Gordon’s head stuck in a door for half a play.

We had half an audience participation sing along, then there was the propensity of the cast, or rather Mrs Cratchitt to suddenly talk about recipes and how to make special gravy – we all know gravy is important to Northerners but I’m sure Dickens didn’t have three or four pages on how to make it with lardons etc – but then the cast did have a habit of talking about things or asking about things that had nothing to do with the play.

They also had a problem with entrances and exits to or from the wrong side, or not at all, and we had pennies from heaven, stage left, stage right, stage anywhere to pay for a giant turkey we never see, and then there was the inability of the cast to spell first time around to make announcements.

The Dickensian Christmas scene mural at the back by Tessa Fenton was all right though, excellent even, and didn’t fall off the wall, so perhaps it was for another production . . .

We ended up with five actors cleverly and skilfully leading their characters in a merry dance through absolute mayhem in a wonderfully funny example of the total incompetence of the TFAHETGDS.

It is a strange fact of theatre that it is easy to be a bad actor, after all there are plenty around, the really difficult trick is not only playing the part of a bad actor, but playing a bad actor well and here is a quintet who manage it with convincing aplomb. It really does take a lot of hard work to get it that bad, outstandingly good bad as one might say.

There are a lot of scenes, but most flow one to another so there is no break but a couple of the longer changes could be snappier, but that will happen as the run continues.

Although it may not seem like it at times, the play does end, honest, and as you walk out into the frosty night you may hear a slight whirring sound caught on the breeze. That’s another sound of Christmas past, the sound of Charles Dickens spinning in his grave.

But who cares. Directed by Rob Phillips the result is a night full of well-rehearsed mishaps and packed with laughs – two chairs for Tiny Tim is a gem – all providing a welcome escape for a couple of hours from the troubled world we live in, and we all need that. A Christmas Carol will be trying to get it right (they won’t) to 09-12-23.

Roger Clarke


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