Musical adaptation by Kate Ferguson & Susannah Pearse, based on Dickens
Octagon Theatre production
Octagon Theatre, Bolton
November 17, 2022-January 14, 2023; 2 hrs 15 mins
God bless us, every one! So let’s get that out of the way – and a Merry Christmas to you all.
A Christmas Carol has come a long way, from the tale of abject poverty on the streets of London, all-enveloping misanthropy and seriously scary ghosts - never to be read under the covers by torchlight - to the all-singing jollity of today’s versions.
This production, directed by Octagon associate director Georgia Murphy with musical direction by Matthew Malone, is very clear in its intentions. A Christmas musical, fun for all the family, with a bad guy whose redemption is never in doubt and a proper happy ending. What’s not to love?
And love it we did. Our audience ranged in age from primary to definitely senior, and everyone arrived excited and left with a broad smile on their face.
So often has Dickens's “A Christmas Carol; a Ghost Story of Christmas” been adapted for stage and screen that sometimes it is difficult to recall the impact of the original. It is said that it initiated serious charitable giving in the way we know it today; that it threw a light on the plight of poor families that has never dimmed, and that it pretty much set in stone the Christmas traditions of feasting, family and fun.
And it is family and fun that is central to Georgia Murphy’s multi-talented production. Every member of the cast is singing, playing, dancing and scene-shifting with joy and dexterity. They navigate Katie Scott’s wonderful costumes with huge confidence – congratulations to Laurie Jamieson, who wrangles Scrooge’s pince-nez into submission, and Lauren Patel, whose ghost of Christmas Past sports a flashing head-dress that would defeat a less determined actor. How Jonathan Charles manages not to fall headlong while entwined in Marley’s chains, we shall never know.
We particularly enjoyed Grace Firth’s wheeled double bass, and her dancing turn as Mrs Fezziwig. But every cast member (including Robert Wade and Lianne Harvey, and on our night Dominic Smith as Tiny Tim) is to be congratulated. This is ensemble theatre at its best.
The opening scene-setter had a rather indistinct acoustic, but worries about the clarity of delivery faded as the show went on; whether there was a technical tweak or we just grew accustomed, it’s hard to tell. Timothy Skelly’s lighting involved a pleasing amount of ghostly dimming and flashing, while the “one lump or two” rolling fire grate was a star turn.
I had my own scary Christmas Past moment when the ghost of Christmas Present arrived. I did my bit in bringing down the standard of school plays in my day, and the ghost’s Christmas tree costume here was a dead ringer for one of mine that I had managed to forget, but which is now back to haunt my dreams. Thank you for that.
More info and tickets here