Nick Le Mesurier reviews A Christmas Carol, presented by the RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford
We all love A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’s perennial tale of festive redemption. The RSC serves up a glorious feast in David Edgar’s adaptation, which ran successfully last Christmas and looks set for another splendid run this time around.
What gives this production its edge, apart from the beautiful set, the superb acting, the immaculate choreography, and the sheer energy of it all, is its acknowledgement of the conditions from which the story sprang. Dickens didn’t hold back when it came to criticising his fellow citizens. When the story was published in 1843 the industrial revolution was going at full pace and children were its most likely victims. We may weep at the fate of Tiny Tim, poor disabled boy born into poverty and unlikely, even with the help of charity, to escape it, but we know why he suffered. The story invites a moralistic turn, but the RSC does a marvellous job of balancing the sentiment with the scrutiny. Neither extreme dominates, and we get a heart-warming and often exuberant tale of charity, good-will and humour mixed with a sharp reminder that Scrooge’s wealth was acquired at others’ expense.
The cast is huge, and among its stars are the many child actors, who never play it cute. I found the little ghost of Christmas Future particularly stirring; she never said a word but every gesture left its mark. I loved Danielle Henry as the flamboyant ghost of Christmas present, bedecked with weeds like an overgrown cemetery. Aden Gillett is tremendous as Scrooge, truly mean and miserly at the start, but bursting with the joy of a redeemed sinner at the end. Joseph Timms as Dickens himself conjures up the magic like a latter-day Prospero, not so much creating as revealing the tale.
A Christmas Carol is an exhilarating experience, and it moved this curmudgeonly old critic to tears!
* A Christmas Carol runs until January 20. Visit www.rsc.org.uk/a-christmas-carol to book.