Scrooge is a well-known Christmas character. He comes from Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, a morality tale about neighbourly living. “Scrooge” is an easy insult to throw. This production, faithfully adapted from the book, gives the audience a bit more depth as it follows the transformation of a sad, lonely man into a happier member of his community.
The Bridge House offers intimacy as a theatre space. Now well-established as a Fringe venue, it also boasts decent lighting, good-quality sound and some mercifully comfy seats. The whole space is utilised in this show and on the way in, the audience is greeted by actors playing musical instruments as they set the tone for a friendly evening of story-telling and music.
The story starts on Christmas Eve, in the Victorian office of Ebenezer Scrooge. It is the seventh anniversary of his former business partner’s death and the ghost of said Jacob Marley returns to warn Scrooge he has quite a night ahead of him. Marley tells Scrooge to mend his ways, to reject making money at other people’s expense and get back in touch with his humanity. He also mentions that he will be visited by three ghosts. So follows Scrooge’s journey to himself as the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future take this businessman on a whistle-stop tour through his life. He revisits key childhood moments, views the Christmas of his contemporaries and ends up looking at his own bleak future. Terrified, Scrooge begs for a second chance. Happily, Dickens chose to give him one and ‘A Christmas Carol’ has a happy ending.
This production emphasises Community. From the warm welcome onwards, the audience is invited into Scrooge’s world. The set is reasonably simple but the lights and the sound combine to create a number of believable locations, as Scrooge is whisked from one part of London to another by the Christmas Spirits. There are a few songs and plenty of incidental music to support the action. The combination of guitar, cello and piano works well, with the original music by Ben Woods featuring just enough to add but not so much it drowns out the play. This is not a musical, it’s a show with music. Near the interval, there’s even a game of Charades involving the audience. This is a night out prepared with audience enjoyment and comfort firmly in mind.
Rachel Izen’s Scrooge manages the transformation in character credibly. However, perhaps the most impressive aspect of her performance is its androgyny. Her Scrooge is a believable man but, without too many of the traditional scowls, his humanity becomes visible. Izen’s is a three-dimensional, controlled performance that makes sense of Scrooge’s redemption. Ben Woods delivers with a clear love for Dickens’ language as his voice works the theatre space like velvet. Jamie Ross offers a decent Bob Cratchitt, though his real tour-de-force is a buoyant Scottish ‘Spirit of Christmas Present’. Saoria Wright slips effortlessly between characters, at least once mid-sentence. She also plays a mean cello.
This is an ensemble piece. The cast need to move precisely on a small stage and deliver their lines with similar accuracy as characters appear and disappear, sometimes in quick succession. This being a first night, there were a few fluffed lines and one or two slightly clumsy moments of stagecraft. However, this is an intricate production, as The Bridge House once again offers fringe theatre that is a cut above the rest. Director Guy Retallack will be tweaking and tightening for a few days yet. If previous experience is any guide, this production will mature, quickly, with age.
A timely reminder of the need for Community in a time of food banks and the Homeless on London’s streets, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is an enjoyable, musical production. The CEO of Amazon would certainly get something from this good night out at The Bridge House.
Jon Preston, November 2019
Tickets from https://www.bhtheatre.com/whatson/index.php