A Christmas Carol review – Jermyn Street Theatre / Guildford Shakespeare Company

Brian Blessed as the Ghost of Christmas Present

If you’ve spent too much of 2020 in Zoom meetings, here’s a delightful opportunity to have the irrepressible Brian Blessed booming out of your video conferencing software for a change.

Blessed plays the Ghost of Christmas Present in this inventively staged online production that uses technology to bring Dickens’ festive tale live to your laptop.

Adapted by Naylah Ahmed, this Christmas Carol stays pretty faithful to the original story but slips in topical references to the “sinister sickness” and the “rule of six” during a conversation about inviting Scrooge round for dinner.

As Scrooge, Jim Findley is suitably grouchy before his haunted night of time travel, and there’s more star casting in the form of Penelope Keith (yes, Penelope Keith), as a fabulously regal Ghost of Christmas Past.

Penelope Keith as the Ghost of Christmas Past

Three more actors (Paula James, Robin Morrissey and Lucy Pearson) play all of the other roles alongside three young ensembles as the various children. 

With each actor boxed up in their individual screens, director Natasha Rickman has the daunting job of keeping it all flowing – something she does with aplomb. The interplay between the characters in the Cratchit household works particularly well.

There’s even some Zoom audience participation in the Fezziwig dance scene, which adds to the sense of fun.

As you’d expect, Brian Blessed’s larger-than-life performance steals the show – at one point it seems like he’s trying to clamber out of the screen. He also sings a beautiful We Three Kings. Meanwhile, Robin Morrissey is particularly good in the multiple roles of Bob Cratchit, Jacob Marley and Mr Fezziwig, amongst others.

Beth Mann’s virtual backgrounds and visual effects add plenty of visual pop to the proceedings, and help make this one of the season’s more unusual and innovative offerings.

A Christmas Carol is online until 27 December

A Christmas Carol review – Dominion Theatre

Brian Conley as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

Even the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Be didn’t foresee this…

Just a few hours before the opening night of this staged concert version of Dickens’ festive favourite it was announced that London would be going into Tier 3.

By the time this review is published the show will be in the bizarre situation of being about to close.

That’s a shame – because this uplifting production, directed by Shaun Kerrison, with vibrant musical accompaniment by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra led by Freddie Tapner, fills the Dominion’s giant auditorium full of Christmas cheer (and some snow if you’re lucky). 

After the Bridge Theatre’s excellent – and somewhat darker – stripped back three-hander version, this Christmas Carol feels like a widescreen epic with a cast of thousands.

Brian Conley’s miserly Scrooge has a wonderfully rich delivery (I’d love to see him as Jean Valjean in Les Mis.) While it’s very much Conley’s show, there’s excellent vocal support from Jacqueline Jossa as Scrooge’s old flame Emily (and the silent Ghost of Christmas Future) and Sam Oladeinde as the young Scrooge.

I also really liked Lucie Jones’ fairy-like Ghost of Christmas Past and Cedric Neal’s fun-loving, dancing spirit of the Present.

The show really warms up in Act Two with memorable ensemble pieces like the energetic Abundance and Charity and the spooky chant of Dancing on your Grave.

At the end, an emotional Conley paid tribute to the hard work of the cast, orchestra and production team. “This is the weirdest, weirdest opening night I’ve ever had – it’s bizarre,” he said.

“Tonight is like a shining star in the darkness. It proves that we can do it. It’s not just about us, it’s about every show.”

“We will be back,” Conley promised, like a theatrical version of The Terminator.

Let’s hope it won’t be too long.

A Christmas Carol began previews at the Dominion Theatre on 7 December, opened on 14 December and closed on 15 December due to Covid restrictions.

A Christmas Carol review – Bridge Theatre

After another theatrical hiatus due to Lockdown #2 it felt good to get back to the Bridge for this dark, delicious serving of festive Dickens.

My previous visit here was three months ago to see Ralph Fiennes flying solo. This time we are treated to a cast of three.

And what a cast: Simon Russell Beale (worth the ticket price alone), who plays Scrooge, along with the ever-wonderful Patsy Ferran and the vocally versatile Eben Figueiredo.

The last time I saw Simon Russell Beale on stage was in the sublime The Lehman Trilogy. This version of A Christmas Carol shares much of the same DNA. Three actors narrate the story while taking on multiple roles, often with simple swish of a scarf or the donning of a hat.

Nicholas Hytner’s production makes use of a few simple props, puppets, back projections and geysers of fog to conjure up an atmospheric, and often scary, Dickensian London.

Suspended above Bunny Christie and Rose Revitt’s set is a spaghetti of chains which clanks into action with each ghostly visit. Gareth Fry’s sound design – alive with whispering voices – is superb.

This may not be on the lavish scale of, say, the Old Vic’s annual crowd-pleaser, but it’s well worth putting on your Christmas list.

A Christmas Carol is at the Bridge Theatre until 16 January 2021.