Make ‘A Christmas Carol’ top of your wish list this year

You don’t have long to fulfil goals in 2018 – but if you have chance to see A Christmas Carol at the Leeds Playhouse do not miss your opportunity. Even better, the show’s on until 19th January – so you must make it one of your resolutions (or pop a pair of tickets on your Christmas list).

The show is expertly constructed and performed, taking a classic Dickens novel and transforming it into a show that truly grabs your heart and dunks it into a good old barrel of festive cheer. To provide a fresh take on a classic, whilst still keeping true to the original plot, characterisation and intention, is no mean feat but playwright Deborah McAndrew has adapted the novel perfectly for the stage.

I’ve often said that stage adaptations only work effectively when the audience is given an additional dimension to an existing piece. This production brings to life the characters we know and love in a way a book, or a film, simply can’t do. In two hours I find myself transported into a Dickensian world, with a real affinity for the reformed Mr Scrooge.

The set, designed by Hayley Grindle, is beautiful and innovative, with chiming bells, flickering candle light and even graveyards giving spooky, surprising moments throughout the play. What looks at first glance like a well-designed, professionally constructed backdrop is a fully-interactive set that is an integral part of the story. The songs, composed by John Biddle, add an extra dimension too. From fun moments of merriment to delightfully creepy cast numbers, the songs are perfectly in tune with the era and make this production far more than ‘just a play’ – it is a masterpiece.

Director Amy Leach pulls it out of the bag yet again, even topping last year’s Romeo and Juliet (which is still one of my favourite productions of all time). For a hugely well-known piece, one would assume it would be hard to make it original and particularly difficult to make it so innovative and heart-warming. Leach manages to work her magic on this production, and I doubt I’ll ever see a more inspiring and entertaining version of A Christmas Carol in my lifetime.

There are a few moments that feel a little Panto, such as the show put on by Ghost of Christmas Present (Elexi Walker performs the part well – the style is just not my cup of tea), but it’s worth remembering this is a family show – and moments of audience interaction and an appearance by a couple of jolly reindeer will surely entertain the kids. The majority of the show, however, is spot on. I’m particularly impressed by the use of the ensemble cast to create a ghostly crew to haunt Scrooge. It adds humour and elements of menace, somehow.

The cast are superb, each a perfect fit for their role. Joe Alessi showcases a great deal of acting prowess here – going from the terrifyingly haunted Marley’s Ghost to the jolly Mr Fezziwig. Mention must also go to the adorable Lipalo Mokete as Tiny Tim an Darren Kuppan for his gentle and touching portrayal of the affable Bob Cratchit.

It seems that perhaps each member of the Pop Up Season’s ensemble theatre (who make up the majority of the cast for each production in the season) has their time to shine in at least one of the shows. And here we have Robert Pickavance playing Scrooge. It’s a defining performance of the lovable old fellow – even in the first half, when Scrooge is at his most menacing, he plays the part with a believable hint of lightness so he already has the audience on side ready for the ghost’s visits.

Pickavance, with extraordinary direction from Leach, manages to create a thoroughly well-rounded Scrooge that shines a new light on classic lines, blends humour throughout his journey of misery, fear and redemption and has the audience rooting for him from his first grouchy line through to his elation at discovering he has chance to put the past right. It’s a performance that is artwork to watch.

To the cast and creatives, I would like to issue an apology – I did not have the bravery to instigate a standing ovation for this truly deserving performance. It was 2018’s stand-out show for me, and I’m so grateful to you for creating this absolutely cracking Christmas production. Bravo, to every one.

I really can’t speak highly enough of this show, so go and see it for yourself. You have until the 19th January to visit Leeds Playhouse.

Photograph credited to Andrew Billington

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