Mince pies. Exquisite carols. Parachuting Brussels sprouts. And more hand bells and seasonal warmth than even Ebenezer Scrooge can shake a stick at.
Guaranteed cheer and a much-loved story to boot is the USP of the Old Vic’s now annual revival of A Christmas Carol, which feels about right for where we are now: given the immense upheaval of the last two years, audiences want big theatre spectaculars they can depend upon to give them what they want.
This still-evergreen production from Matilda director Matthew Warchus has boasted more interesting Scrooges than Owen Teale. The Game Of Thrones star has gone for the fire and fury approach, cutting a thunderous figure trapped in an implacable stand-off against a world whose simple easy sentiment he despises.
It’s a broad-brush-stroke performance that makes up in brute power what it lacks in pathos and subtlety, although I’ll admit to being properly moved by Scrooge’s Christmas Day encounter with his former love Belle (Lydia White): Teale manages to suggest Scrooge somehow, unbelievably, thought Belle might return to him.
Warchus’s production also seems faster on its feet this time round: not necessarily a good thing given the psychological complexity in writer Jack Thorne’s characterisation of Scrooge as a man brutalised by a sack-load of daddy issues.
Yet ironically, the joy of Warchus’s production is the way it knowingly indulges precisely that same idealised image of Christmas that Scrooge in some ways is right to feel suspicious of.
Yes, Dickens was the great social realist writer of the 19th century; yes the story of the desperate Cratchits is an obvious allegory for Cost of Living crisis Britain.
Yet this Christmas Carol sanitises all that in the service of an intoxicating vision of Christmas good will and plenty, in which the air itself literally fills with music and food.
I’m not complaining: theatre has had a rough year, and so have we.
This cheesy, charm-stuffed festive fantasia, still so very easy to love, offers a much needed respite from the gloom.
A Christmas Carol is showing at the Old Vic in London.
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