In 1843, Charles Dickens famously wrote A Christmas Carol in an astonishing six weeks, and smartly published the book a week before Christmas. By Christmas eve, the first edition was completely sold out, and the publishers rushed out a second (and third!) reprint before the end of that year. The theatrical potential of the story was immediately apparent and by February of the following year – just two months after publication – no less than eight stage adaptations were underway.
The cautionary tale of the miserly Scrooge, visited by the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future is by now well-known to all. Inspired by his observations of the growing economic divide in Victorian England, Dickens’ book encapsulated contemporary fears over the dangers of capitalism and the fracturing sense of community it created. Conscious of the social upheaval occurring as a result of industrialisation, the thoroughly modern Victorians, it seems, were growing nostalgic for a simpler time, sparking a wave of interest in Christmas traditions. With A Christmas Carol, Dickens not only captured the moment, but – according to some commentators – invented Christmas as we know it today.
Conceived and directed by Matthew Warchus (Matilda the Musical) and adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), this latest adaptation to hit Melbourne first appeared as part of the 2017 season at the Old Vic, becoming an instant success. So much so that it has sparked a number of international productions (including this Melbourne production) and has been included in the Old Vic line-up every year since. Even the COVID-effected 2020 season was live streamed from an empty auditorium. The 2022 London season has just opened with Welsh actor Owen Teale performing the lead role.
For this Melbourne season, Australian acting legend David Wenham leads the cast as the tight-fisted Scrooge, and his understated performance throughout lends serious weight to the production. The first act spends considerable time establishing his miserly credentials, walking us through his early years, formative relationships, and critical decisions that come to haunt his present isolation. The second half by contrast, brings him to the inevitable realisation that family and community are far more important than money – watching Wenham’s transformation is a joy.
As Scrooge’s one-time love and constant reminder of what-might-have-been, Sarah Morrison as Belle, strikes the perfect balance between pragmatism and sentimentality. Bernard Curry as the loyal employee Bob Cratchit is the epitome of kindness, and the embodiment of the Christmas ideal of being grateful for small mercies. Other notable performances are given by Debra Lawrance as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Samantha Morley as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Emily Nkomo as Little Fan/Ghost of Christmas Future, but in truth the support cast is uniformly strong.
While the show is not a musical per se, the production nevertheless employs music to great effect, incorporating a number of well-known Christmas carols, and some sublime hand bell ringing. The set design by Rob Howell and lighting by Hugh Vanstone – consisting of hundreds of lanterns that flicker and swirl to signify the movement of ghosts – is simply stunning, and a million miles away from the cramped and dirty Victorian streets described in Dickens’ novels.
One of the biggest strengths of this production is its sheer theatricality. What works on the page (or indeed the screen) doesn't always work on stage, but this production, culminating with the thrilling ‘feast’ that envelopes the entire audience, cleverly draws on all of the elements of live theatre that makes a theatre experience unique.
This is a beautiful production, full to the brim with Christmas spirit, and sure to please the whole family.
GWB Entertainment presents an Old Vic production
A Christmas Carol
adaptation by Jack Thorne
Director Matthew Warchus
Venue: Comedy Theatre | 240 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC
Dates: until December 29, 2022