**** 4 stars
“An Edinburgh Christmas Carol is a delight”
I have to confess that every time I think about Charles Dickens’ Christmas tale, my head fills with visions of Michael Caine dancing through snow with Miss Piggy and Kermit. I couldn’t help wondering how the Lyceum’s show could compete with this – but it managed to make me completely forget the Muppets’ version and instead relish the added bite the tale gained from its Edinburgh setting.
The story is well known. Miserly, hard-hearted lawyer Ebenezer Scrooge is the cause of untold misery to many because of his refusal to show compassion to people who are unable to lift or keep themselves out of extreme poverty. [How startlingly apposite this tale is in our current political situation….] Scrooge pays his taxes, there is the poorhouse for those who can’t work: it’s not his fault if people are suffering. He has no sympathy for those people who are going around wishing everyone ‘a merry Christmas’: his response is ‘Bah! Humbug!’. He bitterly resents having to give his clerk, Bob Cratchit, ‘that glaikit gomeril’, the morning off on 25th December.
In his cheerless, cold house, Scrooge is startled by a visit from his partner Jacob Marley, who has been dead for many years. Jacob comes to warn Scrooge that he will suffer the same terrible fate as himself if he doesn’t change his ways, and tells him that three spirits will visit him this night when the clocks strike one, two, and three. ‘Indigestion’ Scrooge explains to himself as he prepares to go to bed.
But the spirits do indeed visit him that night. The spirit of Christmas past shows him scenes from his childhood and youth, where we see how a warm, loving boy became a heartless curmudgeon. The spirit of Christmas present shows him the meagre Christmas celebrations his clerk’s family have and the suffering of their youngest child, Tiny Tim. Scrooge is moved to pity, but the spirit quotes his own words back at him – ‘their deaths will reduce the surplus population’. The spirit of Christmas yet to come shows him people’s reactions to someone’s death – there is little sorrow, and some rejoicing: only Bob Cratchit displays genuine sorrow. Scrooge, terrified and repentant, realises that he is witnessing people’s reactions to his own death and begs the spirit to tell him this vision isn’t true…
Scrooge wakes in his own bed, relieved to be alive and determined to make amends for his past behaviour. He finds to his great relief that it is Christmas morning and, much to everyone’s astonishment spends lavishly, spreading joy and Christmas cheer all around.
This Edinburgh version of the story was a delight. Set against a backdrop of the Castle rock and the Canongate slums, it centred the tale in the self-righteous condemnation by the authorities of Christmas celebrations. [In 1640 the Scottish parliament passed a law making the celebration of ‘Yule vacations’ illegal: it wasn’t until 1958 that Christmas day became a public holiday]. The City Council was equally kill-joy, demanding that dogs have a collar and licence. Scrooge, of course, applauded the dispersal by the constable of an irrepressibly enthusiastic group of carol singers, and the dog catcher’s attempts to get rid of local celebrity Greyfriars Bobby.
Many of the characters in this version of the tale were very Scottish – the ‘woman who does’ for Scrooge, his nephew Fred’s relatives and friends, Rab Cratchit’ and his wife, the polisman, the people cast out on the streets for non-payment of debts, and the spirits of Christmas [Lang Syne, Nouadays and Ayont]. The cracklingly acerbic Scots words and turns of phrase added sparkle and bite to the dialogue.
A small cast played many characters – there must have been some rapid costume changes behind the scenes! I really enjoyed seeing the actors’ transformations as they wove the tale around Crawford Logan’s dour Ebenezer Scrooge, the sort of hard-hearted implacable ‘do it by the rules’ person not unfamiliar to us today…. I wasn’t totally convinced by his ‘conversion’ – was he trying too hard? Or just so hardened by his former life that he couldn’t quite melt completely? But maybe I’m just being too picky, or remembering Michael Caine. Greyfriars Bobby and Tiny Tim were brilliantly played by puppets/ puppeteers: we knew they were ‘not real’ and yet they were totally real, and both warmed and tugged at our heartstrings.
The community choir who refused to be silenced, frequently reappearing with a new carol only to be chased off again, were a wonderful cover for the rapid set changes and underlined the irrepressibility of the Christmas spirit which ultimately triumphs over mean-spirited killjoys.
An Edinburgh Christmas Carol is a delight. The grim reality of life for the poor in Dickens’ time is tempered with the joy that people are able to find in the darkest of circumstances. The gaiety and sense of fun that permeates it gives us all hope and lifts our spirits – hopefully it will also encourage us to behave more kindly to those people less fortunate than ourselves.
At the same time, it’s a great show for adults and children alike. Lots to laugh at, some scary bits, and a string of sausages: what’s not to like? The packed house obviously had a great night out: come and share in the Christmas spirit.
An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 31st December, for more info go to: An Edinburgh Christmas Carol | The Lyceum | Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh