As necessary as mince pies and a steady flow of Chocolate Oranges, nothing spells out that the Crimbo season is finally upon us quite like Charles Dickens’ most well-loved tale, A Christmas Carol. Theatre By The Lake’s in-house production tumbled onto the scene like a bunch of mischievous schoolchildren after too many sweets, joyfully bundling up Scrooge, and us, on a wild flying bed-ride across towns, time zones and some inexplicable place in the magical land of in-between (as the Ghost of Christmas Present remarked- it’s hard to explain, dear) in their quest for redemption and the true meaning of Christmas Day.
With a five-strong cast of talented singer-musicians, the story weaved seamlessly between song and dance with a natural ease which, along with their bubbly enthusiasm for the play, carried the audience easily through 2 hour-long performances without ever a dull moment. There was a slight hiccough during the final carol, however, if the audience likes you (and we did) then a tiny little musical slip is not a problem at all, and with such a complicated & continuous musical accompaniment the second opening night is the perfect time to iron this out. It also helps if at that moment the ceiling suddenly decides to spontaneously snow indoors across the auditorium!
The Ghost Of Christmas Present was a wonderfully bawdy, Barbara Windsor-esque figure of joy and earthy common sense, which wouldn’t be complete with a panto-style Gorilla chase across the bed between the ghost and Scrooge who cowered prudishly in his nightcap and shirts. The contrast in their natures wonderfully highlighted Scrooge’s repressed, stuffy principles which had stunted his emotional growth and happiness, against a backdrop of more positive outcomes if only he would mend his ways.
Deeper clarification of Scrooge’s broken engagement was artfully delivered through short visions, including snapshots from his former fiancée’s happier married life which correctly confirmed her earlier vocal sentiments made to Scrooge - that a happy life is reliant on having a loving heart. In other productions, his failed love-life is just one more point of disappointment that sets Scrooge on his miserable life’s path, smarting from the sour grapes of simple rejection as an already quite ungenerous man. This more in-depth examination granted a greater understanding of how that single turning point really hindered the rest of Scrooge’s miserable existence and is regularly revisited in his ill-will held towards both his late-sister and her son, his nephew, both of whom married happily when he could not do so or even begin to value it.
The Props team also need to be congratulated for their puppeteering skills for the genuinely heart-breaking creation of Tiny Tim. Made up from basic kitchen utensils, his little knife and spoon legs tottered across the dining table with a devastating effect that conjured up a pitiful sight and truly conveyed the miserable poverty suffered by so many in Victorian England.
Brechtian method infused throughout with onstage costume changes and regular direct contact with the audience. The fourth wall was regularly broken to deliver an affectionate commentary on the technical progress of the play, as well as pertinent observations of the current political climate which could very well plunge us all back to the poor-house quite soon (some areas of the North West have never really left).
For fully paid-up Reindeer Jumper enthusiasts everywhere, Theatre By The Lake has served up a truly delightful evening of festive fun that will melt the heart of even the most stony-faced Grinch.
Reviewer - Natalie Bowers
on - 23/11/19