Like many millennials, my first introduction to Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol was through the iconic Muppet version starring Michael Caine as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. It is without a doubt, the most superior of the adaptations of Dicken’s classic tale of Scrooge, who over the course of an evening is visited by three ghosts, who encourage him to change his ways and open his heart before all is lost. However, the Old Vic Production by Jack Thorne gives the Muppets a run for their money.
Thorne previously worked on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and his flair for the dramatic, along with his innovative use of staging, props and effects creates an eerie, yet beautiful production. Leading the cast is Owen Teale of Game of Thrones fame as Scrooge, his resonate voice fills the Comedy Theatre with its grandeur and he is fully in command of the stage throughout (which is lucky, as he is rarely offstage).
Set on Christmas Eve, Thorne sets up the premise quickly and efficiently. Scrooge is a mean and harsh man, dedicated to making money and little else. He does not suffer fools … actually he doesn’t suffer anyone. In particular, his employee Bob Cracthit (an almost unrecognisable Bernard Curry) who is anxious to go home to his family for the holidays. After Scrooge sends Bob on a lengthy errand and berates a group of well-meaning carollers, he receives a terrifying visit from his deceased former business partner, Jacob Marley warning him he will be visited by three ghosts: the Ghost of Christmas Past (Debra Lawrence), Christmas Present (Samantha Morley) and Christmas Yet To Be. If he does not mend his ways, he will end up like Marley, chained in forever damnation.
A staunch realist, Scrooge dismisses this but is soon visited by the first ghost who transports him to the past, and his troubled childhood. It’s a different take on the original story, but this version of Scrooge’s violent upbringing makes the character a much more sympathetic figure. As he continues to be visited by the ghosts, Christmas Carols and the ringing of bells are gently interwoven into the narrative, accompanying the action with careful precision.
As more of Scrooges’ character is revealed, and he himself begins to warm, the audience is easily moved to be on this anti-hero’s side. And when all is finally revealed and he wakes on Christmas morning, there is palpable glee. Teale moves from cruel to charismatic with ease, his warmth and joy evident.
The supporting characters of Belle (Sarah Morrison) and Little Fan (Aisha Aidara) bring a lightness to the stage under all Scrooge’s gruffness, and the ensemble are both atmospheric and utterly charming. Everything about this production is carefully thought out – I particularly enjoyed Scrooge’s costuming, his ragged coat indicating that for all his wealth, he could never enjoy it.
A Christmas Carol might be a tale as old as time, but this production infuses 21st century elements with 19th century literature, finding a glorious balance between the two. It is a reinvigorating adaptation, more ghostly and dark than other versions, but the juxtaposition between the light and shade is deliberate and calculated. Ultimately, this is a story of a man thought to be beyond redemption, and of a community that not only refused to give up on him but welcomed him with open arms.
It's a bit saccharine, but if you can’t get away with that at Christmas, when can you?
An Old Vic Production
A Christmas Carol
a version by Jack Thorne | conceived by Matthew Warchus
Director Matthew Warchus
Venue: Comedy Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Dates: until 7 January 2024