As we inched closer to The Big Day it seemed very timely to see Patrick Barlow's new stage version of Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Noel Coward Theatre. I must admit that I primarily went to finally have the opportunity to see Jim Broadbent onstage.
It was all a bit of a curate's egg but it was worth it for Broadbent and Samantha Spiro who played several small roles.
Barlow has adapted a fairly traditional retelling of the Dickens classic but his Scrooge when we first see him is not the usual dessicated old misery but a hearty and overbearing money-lender, in line with the now-received idea of heartless bankers. The play starts with him putting a woman through the mill before she agrees to his exorbitant interest rates.
With that we get to the main story when Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his dead business partner Jacob Marley warning him to change his ways or he too will spend the afterlife in misery. His visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future see to it that by Christmas morning he is a changed man.
The whole play takes place within a large toy theatre proscenium arch with two stagehands trundling props into place for the play to continue with the supporting cast of two actors and two actresses playing all the other parts, meeting themselves going off as they are coming on.
Broadbent was as good as I expected him to be and was particularly fine at the end of the play when his bluff and terror gave way to a sweet humility and as I said, of the supporting cast, the standouts were Amelia Bullmore as the ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past and Mrs Cratchitt but in particular Samantha Spiro commanded the stage as the Babs Windsor-style Ghost of Christmas Present among others. She also gave a very good curtain speech for the St. Martin-In-The-Fields homeless charity.
But the overwhelming cutesy tweeness of the production was a bit unrelenting and the jokey script happily ignored the story's more haunting aspects towards the end which would have helped to vary the tone.