A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A GHOST STORY

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By Charles Dickens adapted by Mark Gatiss
Nottingham Playhouse

Two years after Mark Gatiss’ adaptation of Charles Dickens’ festive tale had its première at Nottingham Playhouse, A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story is back with a few changes.

In 2021 Gatiss played Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. This time the actor and director has moved aside to allow Peter Forbes to take on those roles.

The show is basically the same, with an ensemble of 13 playing 50 characters in 30 scenes. Spooky music and sound effects, dramatic lighting and apparitions emerging from all parts of the auditorium heighten the atmosphere. It all fits in with the belief of Gatiss, who has been obsessed with the story since he was four years old, that A Christmas Carol is a ghost story.

Peter Forbes (Jacob Marley) and Keith Allen (Ebenezer Scrooge) [images: Manuel Harlan]

As with the 2021 production, Nottingham Playhouse gets the show before it transfers to London’s Alexandra Palace. While some people may think it strange to hear all the verses of “O Come All Ye Faithful” at the end, staging it now means the timing coincides with Halloween and its supernatural overtones.

The Playhouse announced it had pulled off a coup when it secured comedian and actor Keith Allen to play the lead. It’s an interesting depiction: here we have a scruffy Scrooge who’s always pulling up his trousers; not just an odious character who tries to steal money from a blind man but also an unkempt individual whose personal hygiene would dissuade you from inviting him for dinner.

Allen slowly settles into the role, excelling when he turns into an unparalleled philanthropist who takes joy in helping others. His facial expressions are exceptional.

Five of the original cast return and show they have lost none of their enthusiasm for the production: James Backway as Fred, Scrooge’s forgiving, kind nephew; Edward Harrison, a dedicated, compliant Bob Cratchit; Joe Shire, the jovial Ghost of Christmas Present; young Charlie Westlake as a cute Edwin Cratchit; and Angelina Chudi as neglected girlfriend Belle who is replaced by Scrooge’s obsession with money.

Catching the eye among the newcomers is Forbes who proves a capable Marley and a penny-pinching match for Scrooge. After his death he returns as a formidable ghost in chains to warn his former partner of what’s to come if he doesn’t change his ways. Geoffrey Beevers pulls everything together as the narrator.

Paul Wills’ set makes another appearance, huge columns of filing cabinets and drawers making up the office of Marley and Scrooge and spinning round to reveal the two men at their raised desks. Scene changes are slick as we move from Scrooge’s bedroom to a street, Fred’s welcoming house and other locations.

Playhouse artistic director Adam Penford again directs a stylish, joyous production which has boundless energy.

So trick or treat? There are plenty of tricks in A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story but they serve merely to present Gatiss’ vision for the play in the best possible light. And even if you think it’s too early for Christmas, the production is certainly just as much a treat as the 2021 version.

* This review originally appeared on the British Theatre Guide website

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