Wednesday, 4 December 2013

A Christmas Carol @ The REP – Tuesday 3rd December

Jo Servi (Scrooge) and Marc Akinfolarin (Jacob Marley)
Given the loss of this show’s lead actor Matthew Ashforde just as this run was starting perhaps The REP should’ve been staging The Nightmare Before Christmas instead. In true ‘the show must go on’ spirit though previous performances had seen the Assistant Director stand in for the ailing Ebeneezer. Now they’ve hastily rejigged the cast promoting Jacob Marley to the role (well the actor playing Marley at it...good) and moving various other performers around to fill the gaps.

These things happen of course, human beings are fragile creatures, a theme the play itself embraces and I dread to think about how much hard work the remaining members of the cast have had to put in to turn things around (this show had no understudies apparently, hence the Assistant Director stepping in at the last minute). But turn it around they did and Jo Servi deserves a pint of egg nog (at the very least) for ably filling Scrooge’s slippers. I guess he’d perfected his stooped and haunted appearance for his Marley role but even so given that this was only the second show with the new cast line up things ran remarkably smoothly.

The set’s impressively atmospheric, frequently belching out Victorian smog from various orifices. The remarkably simple idea of gas lamps on wheels was also incredibly effective, adding light and shade and changing the feel from an internal setting to an external one in an instant. Costumes, make up and wigs also added to the atmosphere, with Old Joe in particular sporting a particularly stunning white hairpiece that puts legendary boxing promoter Don King’s barnet to shame. 

Roddy Peters (Dobber), Paul Ryan (Old Joe) and Joanna Lee Martin (Mrs Joe)
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come also deserves a honourable mention. Employing a similar technique to the one used in War Horse it’s a genuinely haunting apparition, a cadaverous turkey like creature that might well scare the bejesus out of those with a nervous disposition. In stark contrast its predecessor, The Ghost of Christmas Present, was a delight. 

Jo Servi (Scrooge) and Angela Wynter (The Ghost of Christmas Present)
Played by Angela Wynter (perhaps best known as Yolande Trueman in EastEnders) it’s the first time I’ve seen a female spirit in a version of A Christmas Carol. Not content with swapping the spirit’s gender she played it with a broad West Indian accent too. Okay it sounds weird but trust me, it works. Christmas is a time for jollity and fun and what sounds jollier than a full on West Indian accent eh? Exactly. Adding to this the song and dance numbers were a delight, bringing a neat touch of the music hall to the show and really helping to conjure up the spirit of the Victorian era (or at least how we view it these days), with Marc Akinfolarin’s (as Marley) booming bass vocal in particular standing out.

A Christmas Carol Ensemble

Having seen dozens of versions of A Christmas Carol over the years the acid test is always whether it can produce a tremble of the lip when Tiny Tim pops his clogs and a warm, fuzzy glow when old Scrooge repents his mean ways. This performance certainly achieved the double, although perhaps Servi’s glorious Lazarus like transformation could be ramped up a little, something that he’ll no doubt completely nail after a few more shows. One or two of the planned flying stunts have also clearly had to be shelved (Servi was due to fly in as Marley at one point) something that the kids would no doubt have loved to see, but their omission is completely one wants an out of control Marley floating down Broad Street.

Against all the odds cast and crew have pulled together to produce a delightful winter warmer of a production, something that’s almost as remarkable as Scrooge’s transformation itself. It’s a cracker!

A Christmas Carol is on until January 4th 2014. Tickets here!
All photos copyright credit: ROBERT DAY

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