Review: A Christmas Carol

4 star rating
A gargantuan cast and creative team capture the essence of Charles Dickens' perfect festive tale in Chickenshed's infectiously entertaining and uniquely inclusive style.
A Christmas Carol at Chickenshed

Image: Chickenshed



Closes here: Saturday 5 January 2019

Author:
Charles Dickens

Composer:
Dave Carey

Director:
Lou Stein

Cast:

Ebenezer Scrooge - Ashley Driver

Marley - Paul Harris

Ghost of Christmas Past - Gemilla Shamruk

Ghost of Christmas Present - Michael Bossisse

Ghost of Christmas Future - Will Laurence

Bob Cratchit - Finn Walters

Mrs Cratchit - Lauren Cambridge

Mr Fezziwig - Bradley Davis

A ghost - Phil Constaninou

Ghost of a banker - Nathaniel Rivet-Leigertwood

Ghost of a factory owner - Cara McInanny

Ghost of a landlord - Bathany Hamlin

Amethyst the ghost - Belinda McGuirk

A Fezziwig fiddler - Nigel Spurgeon

Charwoman - Louise Reen

Laundress - Sarah Jones

Fred (Scrooge's nephew) - Jack Hoskins, Johnie Spillane

Old Joe ( a pawnbroker) - Joseph Booth


Synopsis


"You there!" he shouted to a boy on the street.


"What day is this?"


The boy gave Scrooge a puzzled look.


"It's Christmas, sir. Christmas morning!"


Join Chickenshed for a magical and brilliantly uplifting retelling of the unforgettable story of Ebenezer Scrooge, that "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner".


Follow his spooky encounters over the course of one incredible night, and his journey ultimately to become the friendly, charitable man who "knew how to keep Christmas well".


Background


Charles Dickens' classic story has arguably come to define Christmas in the 175 years since its publication, and there have been numerous memorable versions, both on stage and screen.


Chickenshed has updated, renewed and refreshed this amazing and heart-warming tale for 2018 in an entirely brand new musical version, set in 1930s Britain.


With a cast of over 200 hundred people on stage for each performance, original music, stunning sets and incredible design, we guarantee an absolutely unforgettable festive theatre experience for young and old!


The cast for each performance is drawn from an ensemble of 800 performers split over 4 different rota groups.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 29 November 2018
Review star rating image

If you're worrying about organising your festive season this year and panicking about getting the multitude of tasks completed and personnel lined-up just in time, spare a thought for Chickenshed and their gargantuan task of putting on their always lively and ever-popular Christmas show.


Casts of thousands don't come along everyday in the theatre, but this show gets close to it with an enormous ensemble of around 800, backed-up by a formidable, skilful and well-organised creative and production crew which itself numbers well over three figures.


Chickenshed's largest theatre - the well appointed Rayne Theatre - has a lavishly-sized stage, and every bit of it is needed here to accommodate the vast array of performers who bring this musical, updated version of Charles Dickens' festive story - A Christmas Carol - to life.


Four teams of actors - each 200 strong - alternate over the show's schedule, so you're likely to see a different cast if you go along to see it, though the actors playing the principal characters provide some essential continuity to underpin the enthusiastic and well-disciplined efforts of the rotating teams.


Imaginatively inventive as he was with almost all his writing, Charles Dickens really did come up with the perfect Christmas story that has endured with astonishing stubbornness since it was first published in the dim and distant past of 1843.


It's obstinate longevity is accounted for by the alluring cocktail of elements it contains - a miserly protagonist, magical ghosts, the poignancy of impending death, the power of the festive spirit and, ultimately, redemption that delivers a cheering and resounding resolution.


Writer/ director Lou Stein manages to keep all the fundamentals of the tale in place, even if he nudges his massive enterprise out of the "frills" of the Victorian era and relocates it to London in the post-crash years of the 1930s depression.


That directorial decision allows William Fricker's excellent and impressive design to include an art deco themed frieze which features a practical clock that counts out the hours for the appearances of the ghosts that materialise to provide Scrooge with life-changing visions.


There's a neat trick at the beginning of the show as Ashley Driver's irascibly bombastic, keenly-observed and humorous Scrooge pedals his mean way to his gloomy office on a bicycle and London's building's whizz magically by him.


And another surprise comes when Michael Bossisse's substantial and imposing frame of the Ghost of Christmas Present appears with the aid of a rug.


Dave Carey's splendid music intertwines several musical styles and delivers an evocative mix of up-beat numbers and ballads, which often harbour an underlying jazz theme - I particularly enjoyed Gemilla Shamruk's moving ballad as Ghost of Christmas Past.


Finn Walters' Bob Cratchit and his spouse, played by Lauren Cambridge, seem bent on creating their own population explosion with an almost uncountable family of offspring, but it does provide ample opportunities for younger characters.


The actors' ages range right through from the very young - around 7 or so, I would guess - to adults, so the level of acting experience on display covers a remarkable range.


That doesn't matter one bit because every single actor is focused on their part and the whole ensemble work not merely as individual actors, but as a dedicated team with the older members occasionally (and almost invisibly) shepherding younger ones around.


But the teamwork stretches well-beyond the confines of the stage, producing a well-orchestrated, hitch-free show that the entire company can be proud of.


Surely, if Christmas means anything at all (over and above using plastic with carefree abandon) it must be about generosity of spirit where, at least for one brief window of the year, we can all share in special moments.


And we find the embodiment of that spirit in this entertaining and endearing show when the stage is jam-packed with highly focused young actors who definitively demonstrate that sharing is both enjoyable and hugely rewarding for the participants and brings affecting joy to the audience.


It's a spirit many of us would do well to keep in mind for the rest of the year!


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