To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Dickens, Scrooge,Three Ghosts and a Christmas Carol
When I was a child I loved to be told stories; and I'm sure this goes for most youngsters. When somebody else is relating a tale you can give your imagination free rein to create the images that accompany the narrative. I was transported back to my childhood whilst watching, and listening to, Dominic Gerrard performing Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
Gerrard adopts the role of the young gentleman narrator of the famous Christmas story, although it is not clear whether we are supposed to assume that he is Charles Dickens. Gerrard manipulates a life size puppet of Ebenezer Scrooge, whilst also taking on the roles of the other characters in the story, including a decidedly Scottish Ghost of Jacob Marley. The puppet responds to the voices of the other characters by inclining its head, bending it to look out of the window and gesticulating with its hands. Even its nightshirt is grubby, as befits a wealthy man who refuses to spend money.
A Christmas Carol: Scrooge in his Dressing Gown and Night Cap (Production Picture Courtesy of Sophie Reynolds)
The Waterloo East Theatre is a suitable location for a ghost story. The lighting is dark and eerie, and the trains rumbling overhead contribute to the macabre atmosphere of Scrooge's supernatural Christmas Eve. The puppet's face is bald and egg shaped, with squinty eyes, a slightly surprised looking mouth and a deathly pallor; in fact it conveys everything you expect from a curmudgeonly, miserly misery. The mood of the ghostly visitations is further enhanced by the dim lighting, which is occasionally adjusted so that the spectres cast dark shadows on the black curtains at the rear of the stage. The onstage action is accompanied by on offstage violin, often playing plangent snatches of Christmas Carols to remind us of the time of year, the poverty and suffering, and the Ignorance and Want that run through the moral background of the story. Watching and listening to the tale scaled down to seventy minutes also reminds us, as well as Scrooge, of the cruel words he has earlier offered on the subjects of charity for the destitute and the impoverished, words that are echoed back to him by his phantom visitors.
A Christmas Carol: Scrooge After his Transformation (Production Picture Courtesy of Sophie Reynolds)
As well as congratulating Dominic Gerrard on his fine performance, praise must also be given to the unseen violinist, Alexis Bennett and to Mandarava, who created the puppet. Last of all mention must be made of Tim Carroll, the director of this production and of the Globe's West End transfers, Twelfth Night and Richard III.
A Christmas Carol is at the Waterloo East Theatre until 15 December every day except Sunday. There will also be performances at the V&A and at the Dickens House Museum. Whether you are nine or ninety, I highly recommend that you catch up with it at one of these venues. It will cost you far less than a glitzy West End show, and will remind you what Christmas is all about.