An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, adapted and directed by Tony Cownie from the classic novel by Charles Dickens, brings, as its title implies, a very familiar version of this story to The Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh this Christmas.
Like all Christmas shows at The Lyceum, this one treads that fine balance between theatre and outright pantomime, and that format can bring some odd works to the stage at times. Here however, this format works well as there are enough pantomime style performances and jokes mixed in with a deeper layer of story-line and jokes to keep young and old entertained and amused, and all age ranges in the audience tonight were obviously enjoying this performance at many different levels.
Taking not only such a well known story, but one that has been adapted so many times over the years since it was first published (1843) is always going to present some problems as anyone writing something like this is forever constrained by the original text, but there is more than enough space in this original story to allow some interesting writing within the spaces as Victorian London is transposed to a more familiar Victorian Edinburgh that still has many period buildings standing. We of course also get the interweaving of this familiar Dickens story with our own very locally familiar tale (and tail) of Greyfriars Bobby.
It is an odd fact of life that we seem to so readily associate Christmas now with Dickensian stories of poverty, homelessness, and workhouses. That Dickensian idea of throwing the poor unfortunates of the world out into the newly fallen Christmas Day snow seems part of our modern day “festive psyche”, and this production with old style set backdrops that look like they could belong in one of Jessie M King’s illustrations of Edinburgh creates this world well.
Here, the core characters in our original story are all here and Crawford Logan excels with his performance of Ebenezer Scrooge. So much of this story rests upon Ebenezer as he is rarely off stage, and Crawford Logan seems perfectly cast here. Every Ebenezer of course needs his Rab Cratchit to play off, and Ewan Donald again is just right for the role. Having obvious fun here too with her comedy lines, Nicola Roy as Mrs Busybody completes our main adult trio here. Getting this comedy angle just right is always difficult in this story as Ebenezer in the end has to be a character of redemption and not mockery, and the balance seems just right here. For a production with so much of the emotional level of this story resting upon the poorly shoulders of young Tiny Tim, the choice for the role of Tiny Tim is, at least to me, an odd one, but it does work, and this Tiny Tim does have the full emotional dramatic range of a few other cast members.
There is always with a show like this that unexpected wonder of what the children in the audience will do, and tonight was no exception as these responses ranged from being frightened of our “Christmas Spirits” to obvious relish at the possible fate of poor Bobby from the dog-catcher.
Our “Ghosts of Christmas times” are all interesting and often amusing. One even manages to take us well into the future to hear the wonderful words of Christina Rosetti in one of my favourite Christmas songs - “In The Bleak Midwinter”.
Charles Dickens was not only a wonderful storyteller, but an astute commentator on contemporary life and it is sad to think that here in the 21st century we are returning to far too many of the social , economic and health problems that he witnessed in Victorian times. Yes the workhouses may be long gone, but they have been replaced by zero hour contracts at minimum wage rates, or less.
This Christmas production is simply ticking all the right boxes, and given the popularity of the story, I think that The Lyceum Theatre could easily run this all year long and still fill the seats.
Review by Tom King