Theatre Review: A Christmas Carol at Royal & Derngate

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I wasn’t terribly excited about the prospect of seeing Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate, not because I do not like the story but simply because I have seen so many versions.

When a story is told and retold, how can any director hope to bring anything fresh to the tale at all?

But how wrong I was, because the play currently showing in the Royal auditorium is fresh, vital and the best version of A Christmas Carol I have ever seen staged.

If theatre fans do one thing this Christmas they should definitely book themselves some tickets to see this show.

Dorected by Gary Sefton, in his typically lively and imaginative style, Dickens’ story is brought to vibrant life in this traditional yet strangely quirky production.

My one big fear in seeing this was that terrible crimes would be committed against Dickens’ story; perhaps it would be modernised beyond recognition, or dumbed down in an almost panto style for young audiences.

But fortunately my fears were unfounded. This version is Dickensian in a properly cosy, Christmassy and Victorian way, although the set is a little wacky, built from piled up suitcases, clocks, chairs, wardrobes and other odds and ends.

The set helps tell the story, however, as the various cupboards, drawers and windows prove excellent entry points for the different characters, some of whom even emerge from the misty depths of underneath the stage.

For those rare few who may still be unfamiliar with the story, A Christmas Carol tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly, money-obsessed, mean little man whose attitude to the festive period amounts to shouts of: “Bah Humbug!”

When the spirit of his old business partner Jacob Marley turns up, followed by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Scrooge’s personality is given an over-due transformation as he finally accepts human kindness into his heart.

While some productions of this story are so cloying, they can leave me wishing for Scrooge to stay mean, this is anything but.

The characters are acted out with genuine humour. The whole cast, including the child actors, are all brilliant, taking on numerous parts between them.

Outstanding were Greg Haiste as Bob Cratchit and Mrs Fezziwig, Andy Williams as Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas present, and Sam Graham as Scrooge.

There are many stage stunts and secrets I would not like to give away in a review, but those readers who love Christmas, and a good story, should drop in to the show and find out for themselves.

A Christmas Carol runs until Sunday, January 6. For more information, log onto www.royalandderngate.co.uk