A Christmas Carol, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
Charles Dickens had no idea what he was unleashing with his seasonal tale of ghosts and redemption.
And the penitence and transformation of parsimonious Ebeneezer Scrooge has never been seen quite like this before, in Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of our Christmas favourite.
Director Gemma Fairlie presents a rumbustious, imaginative and playful version, with hilarious sound effects, clever staging and even some makeshift puppetry. No use trying to explain that Tiny Tim is played by items of crockery and cutlery; this simply has to be seen to be believed.
There are elements of panto, with the closest that the Ghost of Christmas Present has ever come to a pantomime dame, and a most glorious seasonal finale with snow falling on the audience.
But ultimately the success of this utterly joyous production is due to the frenetic talent of the ever-present cast of just five players. To say this is a busy show is an understatement; Dickens meets the 39 Steps comes closer.
Only Darren Lawrence as Scrooge says in part throughout, morphing from miserable miser to beatific benefactor with great gusto. The other four actors – Pete Ashmore, Sally Cheng, Max Gallagher and Claire Storey – do all the rest. And we mean ALL: doors, seats, coat hangers included.
They also sing, dance and play a range of instruments, to provide us with both a series of Christmas carols and some of those wonderful sound effects. There are zany costume changes and marvellous voice switches, most notably when two of Bob Cratchit’s children appear as dinner plates. (Cousin Frederick’s five children are played by concertina’d paper cutouts but, again, only seeing is truly believing.)
The three ghosts are not really scary, in case you were wondering if this is a show for all the family. In fact, schools from all over Cumbria will be coming to see matinees. Young children will miss some of the nuances of what is, after all, a rather serious message, but as an introduction to theatre – and to Dickens – this is close to perfect. And a splendid way for the Theatre by the Lake company to wish a first happy Christmas to new artistic director Liz Stevenson.
A Christmas Carol plays until January 11. Tickets and details: https://www.theatrebythelake.com/whats-on