Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (directed by Nicholas Hytner, Br/dge Theatre)
So that was a bit oops.
I was so taken with Simon Russell Beale playing his second Scrooge of the year, that I failed to recognise Patsy Ferran and Eben Figueiredo. Ferran had played a gender-flipped Jim Hawkins in the National Theatre’s Treasure Ireland and Figueredo locked tonsils as Christian with James McAvoy in Casanova.
Here they are the versatile chorus, narrators and almost-all-the-characters-but-Scrooge to Beale’s Scrooge plus. At times you can believe they are the distinct characters, but the lightly dramatized, apparently sticking to the book, means that it’s almost a Brechtian experience.
And that’s the point when you realise that you probably never did read all the book, and your knowledge of it derives from the Sim, Murray and – especially – Caine versions.
Is that why I’m suspected I’m feeling too much sympathy for Scrooge, with his miserly bully being himself a victim of miserliness and someone who has suffered himself? At first you are angered by his disdain for the non-deserving poor, and his ideas feel dangerously close to equipping him to be a Tory Home Secretary.
Perhaps we need a few more, Bah, Humbugs?
I’m presuming Dickens wrote the novella to be read aloud – I’d lay odds Simon Callow has done it at some point – so it almost dramatizes itself, and the cast make much of a writing desk, a couple of trunks, chains and a few costume changes. Figueiredo’s cod-Indian accent got an uncomfortable (and racist) laugh and Beale’s voice is very appealing.
But it’s a story that inevitably goes for the heart and Hytner’s staging inevitably climaxes with the fairy lights that ring the auditorium. It unashamedly milks the sentiment and the humour, alongside some dark moments, but the real emotional kick is seeing something in a theatre with more than one actor on stage.