By April Howard
It is a tale with which we are all familiar, a cantankerous old miser is visited by four ghosts; that of his former colleague, of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come. It is a Dickensian morality tale about social responsibility, a warning against the hoarding of wealth and the importance of family and friends. The Rocket Theatre Company’s production is in many parts unrecognisable from the original.
I commend the ambition of this re- write in its aim to create a play catered to more modern concerns such as mental illness and coming to terms with the inevitable. Fraser Logue’s retelling, however, lacks most of the optimism and heart of the original. The programme states how the production aims to focus ‘on the truly poignant message of this classic play, messages that often get lost in the Christmas cheer and dream-like ghosts’. I would, however, have to disagree. The Christmas cheer underlines the poignancy of the original, and even though it is a time of year more prone to tragedy and pain (as this play highlights), it is important to not lose sight of how it is a time of joy and redemption. The ghosts add an eery and powerful feeling of the ethereal and divine providence that I do not believe can be replaced by a psychiatric nurse (as this production attempts).
Dickensian morality tale about social responsibility
That being said, there are times when this courageous script shows brilliance. There is merit in trying to subvert the classics, in re-examining the old and turning it into something new. Logue injected comic elements and also a glittering sadness that sometimes we do admittedly gloss over in more conformist productions. This play discusses mortality and redemption in much more direct ways and refuses to let Scrooge off merely because he seeks to become philanthropic. I did however find the plot at times hard to follow and I am still unsure exactly what the play is trying to say through its references to psychiatry, Freud and overbearing nurses who actually appear to cause the disability of their patients.
Also, the tension between Scrooge and his ex-love Belle (Abby Donaldson) shown in flash- backs seems lacking in any kind of emotion, despite the potential that plotline offers the director and actors. Giving her character and performance, Belle’s disinterest in marriage makes her appear less like an assertive and independent feminist and more like an apathetic woman who lacks maturity and direction, which I do not believe is the intention. It also makes the heartbreak Scrooge apparently feels at her refusal a lot less believable and understandable, which in turn undermines the rest of the play.
There are times when this courageous script shows brilliance
All the cast deserve praise, though most performances were not flawless and sometimes felt inhibited by nerves, the dynamic of the group is impressive and the overall impression is one of talent yet to be fully nurtured to excellence. Tilly Owen is a fantastic Scrooge. She commands the stage with a tremendous talent and stage presence. I believe she is the highlight of this production. Sian Gibbons also seems to have a very developed talent indeed. She shows an impressive ability to convey intense emotions and stays fully in character at all moments, even when focus in general is shifted elsewhere. Aoife Walter is also a very talented actress, playing a convincing Marley and performs strikingly. Patrick O’Connell plays Scrooge’s nephew the Rev. Fred with the right amount of timidity and humility, and provides an effective contrast to Owen’s Scrooge.
While the backdrop is amateurish and clashing, the furniture chosen and the way scenes are positioned drown this out and provide a great set. The soft piano music played on the way in and during certain scenes of the play and the provision of mulled wine make this a lovely experience and create a harmonious atmosphere. The cast, producer (Monica Jones) and writer/director (Fraser Logue) have clearly poured lots of effort and talent into this production.
Overall, this production is brave, energetic and a great way to spend a wintry evening, especially with a glass of mulled wine and an open mind.
Image by RTC