This superb adaptation of A Christmas Carol puts a contemporary twist on Dickens' classic tale, writes
Any adaptation of A Christmas Carol enters a very crowded field. But Jack Thorne’s take is totally justified: it’s fresh and modern, but also as sentimental and warming as you could want.
To the familiar tale, Thorne adds in Scrooge’s backstory an explanation for his miserly ways: a harsh father, lashing out amid early financial insecurity. It’s pat psychology, but it works, and also adds to the authorial self-portraiture in the character of Scrooge. It sort of means we can’t really dislike him, either.
But that’s no problem with a superb Owen Roe in the role. His Scrooge is a man who’s forgotten his better nature, who treats others not so much with cruelty as with the same unfeeling attitude he applies to himself.
We are, then, instantly glad his miserly demeanor will not last. And that is not an issue for this production. After all, the surprises cannot come from the plot. They come instead, under Selina Cartmell’s direction, via a succession of delightful moments of music, or deft staging, or ensemble choreography.
The play unfolds in traverse, with a raised platform between two banks of seats transforming the old theatre, basking in the glow of candles and Victorian street lamps. The arrangement is involving for the audience, through whom the cast come and go, often in the guise of carol singers, belting out fond renditions of traditional favourites.
It all culminates in a headspinning sequence when Scrooge’s life literally flashes before his eyes, and, soon after, as the audience helps deliver a feast to the Cratchits’ house.
It’s a communal feeling that chimes completely with Thorne’s strong social message of inclusion, and justice. Thorne gives this a pointedly contemporary flavour.
A line like “You have spurned all responsibility for the wider world and simply tried to profit from it,” would work as a riposte to any of today’s monopolist corporate behemoths. But such moments adorn the source material, never threatening to break its magic.
It’s often said Dickens invented our concept of Christmas. He didn’t, in fact. But what he did do was encapsulate the spirit of a trend that was growing in Victorian times. The Gate, in this production, has channeled that spirit anew, and resistance is futile. Just go: it’s the best thing you’ll see this Christmas.