Nearing the end of term, with the Christmas holidays edging ever closer, I was looking forward to a Christmas classic and was attracted by DUCT’s promise of an alternative twist on the traditional tale.
Surprisingly, the decision to have a more narrative take on the play worked very well. The character of Jacob Marley (Ned Campbell) was well played. His voice was well-suited to the narrative style, being smooth and easy to listen to. The staging of his character should be commended also. The idea to mic Marley gave him an intense stage presence and his entrance was really rather fantastic. The lighting, shone specifically to hood his eyes, added to the ghostly effect and managed to conjure a ghost that was truly captivating. Lighting was equally successful when it was later used to conjure the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Olly Hill) as a shadow.
Scrooge (Joe Campbell) was another actor who managed to charm the audience. He facilitated a good use of facial expression and sustained his character throughout the play. Other notable characters included Emily Georgina McLean, playing Mrs Cratchit and Andrew Cowburn’s Bob Cratchit. Emily managed to capture the essence of her character’s low class, anxious temperament well, and Andrew’s portrayal of nervous, hardworking Bob Cratchit was believable. However, it would have been nice to have seen him at least attempt his ‘wife’s’ commitment to the accent, as at times, the smooth, rather posh Southern accent was too much of a juxtaposition to the dire lower class, poverty stricken situation his character was supposedly in. Nevertheless, both actors managed to create scenes of a loving and struggling family that were some of the nicest scenes in the entire production.
Overall, the set was good. Backdrops were decent when projected and acted to add depth to the staging, but some of the painted ones looked rather rushed, which unfortunately created a rather amateurish feel. Furniture was obviously chosen with care and fitted with each intended scene. Indeed, the scene changes were good and generally pacey, moving fluidly. Some of the best scene changes were when the dialogue was continued. Although occasionally projection suffered because of this, on the whole it kept the audience engaged in what could have otherwise been a rather disjointed play. Costumes were equally inventive; from Scrooge’s fake nose to Mrs Cratchit’s work-worn hands to the Ghost of Christmas Past (Josie Williams)’s glowing headband. It was clear that thought had been put into sticking to classic portrayals of the characters that worked well to remind the audience of the original tale, amidst some intelligent and well thought out deviations
There were, of course, a few problems. These included staging issues like audience blocking and at times there were a couple minor problems with projections. The ending of the first half was both abrupt and ambiguous, as curtains came down whole minutes after final exits and lighting was brought up, which left the audience awkwardly unsure of when to clap. The dangling of toys for ‘Want’ and ‘Ignorance’ was quite uncomfortable, being both slow and small, it took time for the audience to register what was going on and the effect was almost comical.
Despite a few technical hitches and perhaps misguided decisions, overall the production was energetic and vibrant and most issues could be put down to first night nerves. Dances and singing brought a certain vivacity to the play. The freeze frames were brilliantly sustained and the lighting added an eerie quality that enhanced acting taking place around them. The fact that many of the actors played several roles displayed versatility, as each was played compellingly. Whilst not dazzling, this is a true winter warmer of a production that provides a homely flavour of festivity before the Christmas holidays.
‘A Christmas Carol’ will be showing at The Assembly Rooms Theatre from Wednesday, 14th of December until Friday, 16th of December at 19:30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Christie Clark