We all know the story, probably in considerable detail. We could probably recite quite a lot of Dickens’s dialogue. But A Christmas Carol still exerts its emotional power.
The tale of Scrooge - his haunting by three ghosts of Christmas and his redemptive transformation - has become a kind of English folk drama and as such can be reinterpreted in many ways, including the 21st century setting it is given in this new dramatisation by Alex Watkins for the Huddersfield Thespians.
After a few moments of readjustment, we don’t miss the top hats, ladies’ bonnets and street urchins of a snowy Victorian London. The updating has been done quite skilfully and does not labour too hard to trowel on the modern social and political relevance of Dickens’s mid-19th century morality tale. In fact, the adaptation serves to emphasise the timeless universality of the story.
Of course there are some updates. Scrooge – presumably running some sort of hedge fund – uses a laptop computer (although Bob Cratchit still seems to be inscribing a ledger). Jacob Marley has become the female Jackie Marley and Scrooge’s nephew has become his niece, living in civil partnership with another woman.
However, adaptor Watkins has kept the story almost entirely intact – apart I think from a dramatically effective scene in which Scrooge physically wrestles with the Ghost of Christmas Past, as if trying to destroy painful memories.
This is certainly a version of A Christmas Carol that you can watch with enjoyment and it is staged with essential simplicity and efficiency, never striving too hard for special effects. With a little bit of its dialogue pared, it deserves to become a standard stage adaptation.
Alex Watkins also directs, and has assembled an energetic and versatile cast of Alistair Cheetham, Isobel Crossley, Lynne Whitaker, Lucinda Herbert and Ben Schofield, in multiple roles. They all have their moments, but I particularly enjoyed Isobel’s feistiness as Scrooge’s niece and as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
But of course it all hinges on Scrooge, This is a big stage part, taking the actor on a big emotional journey. Derek Smith – a big man, and not the gruel-fed Scrooge of tradition – is well up to the job.
At first, he seemed a bit boomy – his hectoring voice rather too loud for the LBT Cellar – but he works a truly impressive emotional and personal transformation when transported back to the scenes of his childhood, before we see his gradual hardening to the ways of the world.
It is a very good performance in a version of A Christmas Carol that works well in the intimacy of the LBT Cellar, where it deserves to have good audiences for the rest of its run. This finishes on Saturday, when there is also a matinee. A collection is taken at the end for the homelessness charity Shelter, which is also worked into the plot of the play.