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What if Scrooge were a woman?
This is the central conceit of a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ perennial Christmas Carol. And what an interesting question it is!
Musical theatre and soap opera super-star, Sally Dexter brilliantly portrays Fan Scrooge, surviving sister of Ebenezer and widow of money-lender Jacob Marley. As in the original Christmas Carol, Scrooge is notorious as a miser and a miserable misanthrope who is visited by Marley’s ghost on Christmas Eve and told she must change her ways for the better. During the evening three ghosts appear taking her on a pilgrimage of self-discovery and Wilton’s Music Hall is the perfect setting for this Victorian Christmas tale.
Built as a Grand Music Hall back in 1858 with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, after years of neglect, it was restored in 2015 to a lovely state of arrested Victorian decay. The venue provides the audience with a truly immersive experience: the movable-prop-shop-staging complements the shabby auditorium and creates a warm intimacy between the players and the audience.
The cast of highly talented performers switches between roles with ease, moving around the stubborn woman as she rails against the spectres evoking Christmases Past, Present and Future. The scenes follow those laid out in the Dickens story, seamlessly switching the male protagonist to female. The constant presence of Ignorance and Want on stage provide a nod to the story’s origins and a sad reminder that they continue to haunt us today.
Using puppets (a wonderful, giant of Christmas Present expertly handled by Edward Harrison), soulful song and chirpy caricatures the production at times has an air of pantomime: it’s fun and fast with some great lines. Scrooge observes that Bob Cratchit will have the Christmas Day holiday, whilst Mrs Cratchit “washes and feeds you all, just as she does every day of the year, on top of her job at the hat factory.”
Adapted for the stage by children’s author, Piers Torday, this gender-switch production provokes interesting feminist sub-texts. In the opening scene, Scrooge spits at Marley’s graveside: “That scoundrel there took my liberty, my money and my property – such benefits which I paid for with the loss of my name.” She is moved by what she sees on her night journey, but later states: “I blame the long procession of men who made me who I am!” and refuses to apologise or explain her behaviour:” I have lived the life that men made for me.” Big subjects for debate in the bar afterwards!
The bottom line in this feel-good production of a Christmas Carol, however, as it was with the original story, is that Scrooge has become a powerful woman and along the way she has lost her humanity, the ability to be happy and to use her power for good. A situation which is, of course, remedied, (spoiler alert!) in a most unusual way, by the end of the play.
Christmas Carol – a fairy tale is playing at Wilton’s Music Hall, London E1 8JB until 4 January 2020.
Box Office: 020 7702 2789 or online
Tickets: £12.50 – £36.00 full price, £10.00 – £32.00 concessions
Looking for other ideas over the Christmas break? We loved Coppelia, showing at the Royal Opera House for Christmas and can recommend Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at the Royal Albert Hall for a short showing only. If you just want to escape Christmassy things, how about A Taste of Honey, currently showing at Trafalgar Studios or the National Youth Theatre’s production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
All photo credits and copyright Nobby Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org