Seasonal goodwill took a knock when I found my seat occupied by an elderly lady who refused to leave it. Smiling, she gestured that I should take the chair she had vacated several rows back. Once there, several bah, humbugs later, my remaining goodwill was further depleted when after this terrific production started, my neighbour kept checking her mobile phone.
Even before all this, I’d always had sneaking respect for Ebenezer Scrooge — played here with subtle injections of ironic good humour by Rhys Ifans. Not for his stinginess but for his scepticism of other people’s sentimentality, and his quite wonderful refusal to be intimidated by ghosts which, he reasons, are likely to be hallucinations from food poisoning. As he says to the ghost of his former business partner Marley, “there’s more of gravy than of grave about you.”
Jack Thorne — writer of the all-conquering Harry Potter stage adaptations — has delivered a succinct and relatively short version of Dickens’s story. Director Matthew Warchus goes for a deceptive simplicity.
The cast perform on a criss-cross of raised platforms, putting the audience in touching distance of the show. Everyone is invited to this theatrical feast. Food for Tiny Tim’s dinner slides down chutes from the circle; infinitely long strings of sausages are passed over our heads.
If I have one gripe it’s that the ghosts are about as scary as an underdone turkey, except perhaps Golda Rosheuvel’s blind Ghost of Christmas Present.
But the spirit of the evening is beautifully evoked by the chorus with a gorgeous display of bell-ringing, an infectious folky score and snowstorms that fill the entire theatre, which alone make the heart swell with pleasure.