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.

Three Sisters review – Almeida Theatre

When the world doesn’t seem be working out the way you expect, you can’t beat a bit of Chekhov to put things in perspective.

Anyone of a like mind should consider heading to north London for this delightful new version of Three Sisters by Cordelia Lynn.

The original story of the Prozorov siblings, stuck in a provincial Russian town dreaming of a life in Moscow, is very much intact, but the language – with added swearing and even a TS Eliot quote – sparkles and zings for a 21st century audience.

Director Rebecca Frecknall places her characters carefully around (and sometimes just off) the stage as if pieces in some magnificent chess game.

This play reunites Frecknall with Patsy Ferran, who recently won the best actress Olivier award for their previous project Summer and Smoke.

That play, which also won for best revival, ended up in the West End after starting out at the Almeida. I’d be surprised if Three Sisters didn’t follow the same trajectory.

Ferran is as magnetic as ever as Olga, the eldest of the sisters. It’s a shame she doesn’t get more stage time.

She’s joined by Pearl Chanda as the wonderfully moody Masha, while Ria Zmitrowicz is excellent as the youngest, Irina, who we see start out so full of youth and promise only to see it crushed out of her as the acts progress.

In one of the play’s best scenes, Chanda heartbreakingly portrays Masha’s despair at the departure of Vershinin (Peter McDonald), the married soldier she loves, while her foolish husband Kulygin (Elliott Levey) goofs about in complete denial.

The set is simple but effective. I like to think that the single piano on stage was one of the many that appeared in Summer and Smoke.

My first experience of Chekhov was seeing Three Sisters at the Barbican in the late 1980s with Harriet Walter as Masha. I fell in love then with the dramatist’s unhappy, frustrated world.

This version is every bit as good. It blew my Chekhovian socks off. Forget Moscow. We must go to Islington.

Three Sisters is at the Almeida Theatre until 1 June

Summer and Smoke – Duke of York’s Theatre

You can almost feel the heat. With its stage bathed in orange light, this production of Tennessee Williams’ play – a transfer from the Almeida – brings a welcome blast of “August madness” to a wintery West End.

Summer and Smoke centres on vicar’s daughter Alma (Patsy Ferran) and her complex relationship with doctor John Buchanan (Matthew Needham).

The minimalist staging of Rebecca Frecknall’s production lets the lyricism and emotion shine through. The action takes place within a semi-circle of pianos – their innards revealed as if to reflect Alma’s exposed soul.

The cast is impressive throughout, but it’s Patsy Ferran’s performance that people will be talking about in years to come. I first interviewed Patsy when she won a Critics’ Circle Award for most promising newcomer in 2015. She kicked off my theatrical year in 2018 in Anoushka Warden’s excellent My Mum’s a Twat at the Royal Court.

Here’s she’s unforgettable from the play’s opening moment as Alma finds herself thrashing around in the grip of a panic attack. You can’t take your eyes off her for the next two hours.

I’ve already bought my tickets to see this remarkable talent in Frecknall’s Three Sisters at the Almeida in April. It can’t come soon enough.