Christmas Review



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Horla presents

A Christmas Carol


by Charles Dickens

Adapted by Joanna Volinska

Directed by Alistair Green

Original music by Carole Carpenter and Jonathan Langford

Design by Tracy Waller

Lighting by Ben Pickersgill

Trafalgar Studio 2

Booking to January 8, 2011





A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Horla is known for their energetic, imaginative, family oriented style of theatre. A few years ago, we enjoyed their lively production of Grimms, a show centring on the oft frightening fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm. This year, they’re treating audiences to a spirited child friendly version of A Christmas Carol, utilizing their company to the maximum, with many players performing multiple roles.

Scrooge is a man of business - a rich miser who’s mad at the world.  He can only be redeemed by three spirits who’ll effectively, frighten him into voluntary reform by parading scenes of promise and lost opportunities (for kindness) from Christmases past, his escalated mean spiritedness compared to generosity of others, often, less fortunate in Christmas present and his inevitable comeuppance if he doesn’t change his ways after meeting the ominous ghost of Christmas yet to come. (Future here) It’s a story we all know well and love seeing performed, providing it’s done with respect for its inspired source with a healthy dose of the good cheer and warm heartedness inherent to Dickens’ Christmas classic.

In this case, Horla’s venture is an uneven production, with some scenes feeling more like whistle-stops than episodes and others overstaying their welcome like a proverbial needle stuck in the grooves of an old wax cylinder. That said, this is also a very well meaning production which manages, despite this, to leave its’ audience with a helping of smiles, destined to cheer them into the cold wintery world outside.

David Roberts makes a very good Scrooge in that his blue eyes turn to steel at the drop of a stovepipe hat and his redemptive mirth comes across as nearly as unexpected a surprise to him as Dickens meant it to be, to his readers. Having watched the, in my opinion inimitable, definitive Scrooge, Alistair Sim in the film Scrooge (1951) at the Museum of London recently, I was predisposed to prejudge any Scrooge I might encounter. But Roberts does a fine job of convincing the audience he’s mean-spirited more out of habit than genuine hard-heartedness, so his change of heart also comes across as a genuine delight. That said, the youngsters in the house might have benefited even further from hearing Scrooge’s humble apology to his nephew than the simple ‘Happy Christmas’ given here. Chris Courtenay plays both young Scrooge and Bob Cratchit and is well suited to both roles given his ability to quickly change course with his characters. As Cratchit his body language is sufficiently self depreciating to indicate the ‘nice guy’ syndrome and as Scrooge, we see him making the transition from being rather mild mannered to strong indications that he is firmly entrenched on the road to becoming the ‘man of business’ that will culminate in his view of Christmas as a ‘humbug.’ Similarly, Adam De Ville plays both Scrooge’s doggedly cheery nephew, Fred and the Ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley. As Trafalgar Studio 2 is quite small, the audience wraps around three sides of the performance area, so those down front may at times find themselves literally face to face with the actors. That and the fact that children are welcome to attend this production may be the reason why De Ville as Marley’s ghost does not make himself as terrifying as he was in Dickens story and might have been here. However, he is still quite convincing and stoically cheery as Fred, coming across at his Christmas part at home as a host who is perhaps, mirroring Dickens’ himself who, it is a well known fact, hosted such gatherings at his own home, at which he was an excited and very involved participant in games playing, singing and much dancing. If such scenes seemed to linger too long here it may have been because others which should have been emphasized, such as the ‘ignorance and want’ vignette weren’t as pronounced as they might have been, but instead of highlighting their brevity, the difference between the two types of scenes made the longer, more fully formed ones seem excessive.

As is the case with many Dickens’ adaptations for the stage these days, a woman plays a boy, in this case, Tiny Tim, who acts as a narrator, hobbling out at the beginning of the play on a crutch, thanks to Elisa Boyd who actually makes Tim’s words seem very touching. Boyd also plays the Ghost of Christmas Past in an old-fashioned nightshirt with white bloomers sticking out below, not as effectively perhaps, and the Ghost of Christmas Future in a black gown and dead-pan features. Kathryn O’ Reilly plays a range of roles from young Scrooge’s intended, Belle, the parting scene from which seems rushed, Crachit’s son Peter, surprisingly effectively, apart from a moment of hip-hop posturing which should be dropped ASAP, a Charwoman picking over Scrooge’s leavings with a fluctuating Irish accent and a Fundraiser which O’Reilly handles with the mixture of empathy and authority suitable to the role. Anna Westlake is Martha Crachit, a role she is well cast in, as well as Miss Fezziwig, aka the dear old man’s daughter, Caroline, one of Fred’s partygoers and a Fundraiser. However, apart from steely eyed David Roberts as Scrooge, the real stars of this show are Alison Ward as Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs. Cratchit, as she plays both roles with warmth and the latter with the addition of the common sense inherent to poverty. Ward is also one of the highlights of the ‘bundle’ scene in which Scrooge’s belonging are hypothetically pawned by his housekeeper (Ward) before Old Joe, played with wit and down at heel charm by Martin Hearn. Among Hearn’s many roles are Mr. Fezziwig, Ghost of Christmas Present and the boy who fetches the ‘prize turkey’ from the butcher’s down the road on Christmas morning at Scrooge’s request, though the latter is much more aptly done as a saucy Londoner aka Cockney. However, each scene with any of the three actors cited here is invariably, one made more enjoyable by their presence.

This production is enlivened by a vibrant original musical score, alternately wistful or joyous, depending on circumstances, composed by Carole Carpenter and Jonathan Langford. The numbers are more often than not, sung harmoniously without musical accompaniment by the cast and sung very well indeed! Well placed sound effects also add to the atmosphere and fullness of various scenes. There are however, a couple of scenes in which actors also act as musicians, such as one in which Elisa Boyd plays a fiddle for Scrooge’s revisit to Old Fezziwig’s Christmas party, one of the production’s liveliest scenes, in which Emma Evans Dickensian choreography is a crowning feature.

Some additions to Dickens’ story, such as Scrooge being openly heckled in the pub on Christmas Eve by those working there, seem out of character for a time when money would have been at a premium and regular business, especially from a wealthy man like Scrooge, certainly wouldn’t have been discouraged, no matter what those waiting on him might have thought of him. I can only conclude this over-emphasis and other such simplifications or contemporary additions to Dickens’ story and characters may have been for the benefit of the children in the audience, to which I can only state that the intelligence of children should never be under-estimated. Children could only benefit from hearing the story as is, though Horla’s wonderfully atypical touches, with each actor adapting his own nuances in every scene is one of their best features. Clothes rails becoming doorways seems apt for Horla’s imaginative aesthetic.

The set by Tracey Waller seems suitably sparse for the times, and consists of a large wooden table, some chairs and a small desk which seats Scrooge’s clerk Bob Crachit then, doubles as his own seating in the rowdy pub where he stops for stew on his way back home to his first haunting by the ghost of Jacob Marley. An old clock-face, stuck to the wall, and the shadow of the Roman numerals and hands of a large clock, visible on the floor of the performance space, very effectively emphasis the ethereal quality of life, one of the story’s chief themes.  

Despite rearranging and/or changes to the original story, i.e. beginning the performance at Jacob Marley’s funeral, and the fluctuating pace of the production, happily, it still manages to retain some of the essentials of Dickens’ tale, enough of them in fact, to put a smile on the faces of the most unsentimental among us. Which according to Dickens when all is said and done, is what Christmas is all about.

Trafalgar Studio 2
14 Whitehall

21 December to 08 January 2011
Minimum age: 6+

Schedule: Tuesday 21st – 3.00 and 7.45 Wednesday 22nd – 3.00 and 7.45Thursday 23rd – 3.00 and 7.45 Friday 24th – 3.00 Saturday 25th – NO SHOW Sunday 26th – NO SHOW Monday 27th – NO SHOW Tuesday 28th – 3.00 and 7.45 Wednesday 29th – 7.45 Thursday 30th – 3.00 and 7.45 Friday 31st – 3.00 Saturday 1st – 3.00 and 7.45 Sunday 2nd – NO SHOW Monday 3rd – 7.45 Tuesday 4th – 7.45 Wednesday 5th – 7.45 Thursday 6th – 3.00 and 7.45 Friday 7th – 3.00 Saturday 8th – 3.00 and 7.45





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