Patrick Barlow’s rendition of A Christmas Carol starring Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent runs something like Charles Dickens might have imagined it. From stagehands manually throwing snow on stage to wigs nearly falling off in dance routines, you get the idea this makeshift style of production is as it would have been in 1843, just after Dickens wrote the story.
Furthering to the overall lighthearted, and equally over-the-top, tone is the wonderfully charismatic Jim Broadbent whose animated grumblings and comedic gestures make the otherwise cantankerous Ebenezer Scrooge almost endearing.
Olivier Award-winning director Phelim McDermott offers a twist on the classic by utilising a ‘rough theatre’ approach where few actors and puppeteers are used (in this case four and two respectively, warranting each to play up to seven parts).
Performances are solid, particularly when you hear notable actors like Samantha Spiro tromping around stage with a near perfect Irish accent, then shortly after commanding Scrooge to look at his Christmas past in a brash cockney twang.
The show’s traditional three-tiered narrative — Ghost of the Past, Present and Future — is also kept loose, and often improvised; while the props are two-dimensional, representing items one might see in a storybook (look out for a playful antique jukebox and moveable Victorian lampposts).
That, coupled with designer Tom Pye’s revolving set that magically switches between Scrooge’s dismal bedroom to Dickensian-like houses such as the Cratchit’s cramped kitchen with a tiny window to the more dignified living room of his nephew, it is easy to believe you might just have jumped back in time with Scrooge and the cast.
With a few “tickety-boos” and the occasional song and dance number, the show at times feels more panto than stage play — but judging from the finale’s standing ovation — that’s not a bad thing.
A Christmas Carol is at the Noel Coward Theatre until January 30. Evening performances start at 7.30pm Monday – Saturday and matinee performances at 2.30pm Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tickets run from £12.25 – £97.25. Running time is two hours and 20 minutes with 1 interval. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.