Photography supplied by Let Them Call It Mischief
Now, it wouldn't be December without a lot of Dickens. There's currently a double bill running at Trafalgar Studios, and another A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Old Red Lion. You're spoilt for choices when it comes to seeing this classic author's work. The question is, why should you see this particular carol? Well, as an opening gambit, the company behind this version at The Pleasance is Let Them Call It Mischief, and they've previously impressed us with THE LONDON CUCKOLDS and THE FINAL REVELATION OF SHERLOCK HOLMES . They have a solid track record, with this one making it three for three for us.
Once he gets hold of the correct book, our Narrator (Maxwell Tyler) tells us of how mean boss Ebenezer Scrooge (Benedict Waring) is visited by the ghost of Christmas Past (Alyssa Noble), the ghost of Christmas Present (Robert Rowe) and the ghost of - well, definitely not a Spielberg film. As we all know, in and amongst his other visions, he sees his badly-paid employee Bob Cratchit (Elliot Ross), Bob's wife (Holly Blair) and his family, all struggling to survive. Often the Cratchit children are reduced to just Tiny Tim (here a Jim Henson-eseque character), but we also meet older daughter Martha (Claire Cartwright) and Little One (Noble again).
The company take on a variety of roles, and throw themselves into each with great enthusiasm, contorting their faces and grinning wildly. It's not quite panto, but it's not far off, with this very much a safe bet for all ages. Although there is such a broad appeal to this take on A Christmas Carol by director Danny Wainwright, it feels like the adults and the children are laughing at different times, at different jokes. A thinly-veiled reference to Kermit and Miss Piggy by fellow puppet Tiny Tim, a nod to The Proclaimers by the Narrator - these kind of jokes are only funny if you have the full background, which obviously the youngest in the audience can't be expected to have.
For the kids, it's the more obvious in-the-moment gags and physical humour that cracks them up - a grumpy Ghost of Christmas Present dressed up as - yes, really, you guessed it - a Christmas present. Shows undoubtedly work better when the whole audience are laughing at the same gag because it works for all of them on different levels but that isn't always the case here. There is however definitely something to amuse everyone, and whilst it's not constantly achingly funny, it's never less than downright entertaining.
The production is heavy on music and dance - having seen Adam Morris and Noble use both to great effect in A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT DREAM , it's clear they do have a flair for working this in. There are some spot on music choices from Morris, from The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy to Gangnam Style and the Macarena, challenging the ensemble to try out every cringeworthy dance routine in modern memory. They all attack each sequence with gusto, injecting some humour into what - let's remember - is a story about class issues and poverty. Noble's choreography is both imagined and executed well, but there is a lot of lip syncing and I'm not sure it's all strictly necessary. The ensemble seem capable of singing live and moving at the same time.
Designer Ele Slade's style is immediately recognisable in the imagery - she captures a soft, almost child-like innocence in each brush stroke. It's painted well, with a clear precision - kudos to scenic artists Justin Williams and Harry Johnson - but there's what I would call a delicate sense of whimsy too. The fact a master carpenter, Aubrey Turner, is listed on the programme hints at a certain ambition and scale in the design and sure enough, wooden carts have been constructed which are used as tables, or turned on their sides, as stage scenery. It's both a stylish and practical decision, which combined with the rotating circular stage, allows the ensemble and stage hands to keep the action fast-moving.
This version of A Christmas Carol is instantly identifiable as Dickens' traditional tale, but there are a lot of edits to make it more fun and family-friendly. You can really see how the company has tried successfully to make this their own. There's certainly no humbug here.
A Christmas Carol opened on 9th December 2014 and runs until 4th January 2015 at The Pleasance, Islington.
Nearest tube station: Caledonian Road (Piccadilly)