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A Christmas Carol, Old Vic, review: ‘Rhys Ifans comes into his own’

PUBLISHED: 18:00 08 December 2017

Rhys Ifans as Scrooge. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Rhys Ifans as Scrooge. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Manuel Harlan

This is wholesome, traditional, uplifting, entertaining and highly recommended

Dickens’ timeless and perhaps indestructible morality tale gets the all-star treatment with Matilda director Matt Warchus bringing inventive flourish, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’s Jack Thorne a socially-conscious, darkly humorous adaptation, and a charismatic Rhys Ifans winning pity as miser Ebenezer Scrooge.

Like all good festive entertainment there are tears, laughter and a joyful clap-a-long - to gorgeous arrangements of traditional carols for handbells and a chorus of voices.

As Dickens intended, Scrooge’s arc here blends knees up merriment with a creepy ghost story and a pricked conscience.

Rob Howell’s inclusive in the round set with runway bisecting the auditorium sets up a party atmosphere as the cast hand out mince pies and musicians play folk jigs.

With barely a chance to meet Bob Cratchit in Scrooge’s freezing offices, we’re deep into his night from hell.

As we’re efficiently whisked through Scrooge’s debt-ridden childhood, present and future funeral, by patchwork-clad female ghosts, we see how the precariousness of poverty has led to his Thatcherite world view that, having pulled himself out of penury, those who fail to do likewise deserve the poor house.

In Fezziwig’s loving, cheerful household he falls for daughter Belle, pledging to return and marry her when he’s made his money - but of course there was never enough. The scene where the reborn Scrooge returns decades later to wish her a happy Christmas is deeply moving.

Likewise visions of the Cratchit’s poor but happy festivities and Tiny Tim’s death are emotional set ups for a joyous participatory payoff, when the audience helps gather the ingredients for their lavish Christmas dinner.

Ifans initially offers one-note anger as the embittered miser but comes into his own with a life-affirming redemption, rallying the crowd with scruffy charm to the strains of Joy to the World.

With a final fall of fake snow as Silent Night is played on handbells, you could hear a pin drop.

Christmas entertainment can be hollow glitter, but just avoiding sentimentality, this is wholesome, traditional, uplifting, entertaining and highly recommended.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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