Saturday, 5 December 2015

A Christmas Carol at The Rose Theatre, Kingston

I didn’t feel jolly or remotely ready for Christmas. I am bruised after months of heartache and festivities are making me feel bitter and alone. Rather like Scrooge.

But I had very nicely been invited along to the press night of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at The Rose Theatre, Kingston and so I dragged my gloomy self up the A3 to see if I could be ‘out-Scrooged.’

Firstly, may I say what a fantastic theatre The Rose is; shame on me for living in Twickenham for years and never having visited it before.  It has a cosy, yet cool, vibe – all mis-matched furniture, warehouse architecture and quirky cafe. Think more Royal Court than local repertory theatre. It is warm and welcoming (especially with the red carpet VIP treatment tonight) with people piling into the grand auditorium. The stage is vast, rather like that of The Olivier, with a 'groundlings' section where families settled in on red cushions.

The programme told me that A Christmas Carol hasn’t been out of print for 172 years and after countless adaptations (woo hoo for The Muppet one) we’d be forgiven for thinking ‘oh not this again.’ But this production at The Rose is breathtaking and packed with sentiment.

I was thrilled to see my Thenardier from my last Les Mis contract and West End darling, Martin Ball, playing Scrooge. There’s a reason why this man works so much – he’s brilliant. His exquisite vocal technique effortlessly tackles Dickens’ prose with the right amount of weight and humour.  With such buzzing ensemble scenes you could easily forget that Scrooge is watching, but Ball is living every moment and his subtle reactions are heartbreaking.

He is supported by the very professional Rose Youth Theatre (I saw the Red Team, marvellous, with a young Ebenezer who was the spit of Robert Pattinson!) and a cast of actor-musicians, including Tomm Coles who I saw this summer as Sowerberry in that brilliant Watermill production of Oliver! As I’ve blogged in the past, it really is the year of the actor-muso and rightly so – they bring such an authentic quality to a production and I marvel at their talent. They help to create a beautiful soundscape, although at times it was slightly too amplified for my sensitive ears, a technical issue not theirs. 

The scenes feel panoramic with clever projections that create a murky and bleak Dickensian London. I enjoyed the nod to Bentalls, all the details are there in this great design. The ghostly appearances were made particularly effective through projection; Marley’s entrance was truly terrifying and the ghost of Christmas present (an incredible creation reminiscent of Bjork, all angles and innocence) was spectacular.

I don’t want to give too much away and spoil the surprises. All I will say is that the end of Act 1 moved me to tears, as did Scrooge’s arrival to his past where I could have danced with Christmas delight (despite holding my breath and watching through tears!)

There’s a reason why this story is retold every year and it is simply because it’s perfect. It has all the lessons you need for a happy life; Christmas is for family, for love, life is an act of will and The Rose does this story justice with an energetic and moving production. Director, Ciaran McConville writes beautifully in his forward,

“Scrooge’s story illustrates that it’s never too late to change the world, nor our place in it...........this is the season for wise hearts and second chances.”

That is certainly my Christmas wish to have a wise heart and a second chance. And I’m sure that we could all do with a dose of A Christmas Carol to escape the world of David Cameron decisions and news reports for two hours.

So whether your heart is broken, bruised, delicate or confused this Christmas, I urge to warm it with this production of A Christmas Carol. Let that be my Christmas present to you all!

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