A Christmas Carol: 'An unashamedly celebratory night out'
- Credit: Manuel Harlan
A Christmas Carol, Alexandra Palace Theatre, ***
There can be few better settings for a ghostly Dickensian tale than Alexandra Palace's atmospheric Victorian theatre.
Mark Gatiss' adaptation starts off well, with a vignette set seven years before Scrooge's fateful Christmas night. On Paul Wills' set of towering filing cabinets, Nicholas Farrell's hunched Ebenezer and Gatiss' miserly Jacob Marley are humbugging about the festive season, when Marley comically expires.
"Waste not want not," comments Scrooge as he snuffs out a candle and we're whirled via Christopher Godwin's armchair narrator to the Christmas Eve when Marley's chain-bound spirit returns, warning his erstwhile partner to change his ways. There are terrific creepy theatrical surprises: a ghoulish face at a door, a ghostly coach and horses whooshing past, servant's bells jangled by unseen hands – the ominous clanking of chains, with Gatiss clearly relishing his doom-laden role.
Thereafter we settle down for a faithful telling of Dickens' classic, and fans of the League of Gentleman star's brand of dark comedy may be disappointed that the phantasmagoria and laughs are dialled down to let the heartwarming redemptive moments shine. Jo Eaton-Kent's ballet-slippered Christmas past and Joe Shire's booming Christmas present are more chatty than uncanny, and Farrell's Scrooge seems pitifully grateful to be haunted.
Here the Cratchits are more than just emblems of poverty, but a loving, humorous family headed by Edward Harrison's touchingly weary but good-hearted Bob. There's a jolly dance at Fezziwig's party, a simple, uplifting rendition of Oh Come All Ye Faithful complete with snow and London skyline backdrop, and Scrooge's conversion is heartfelt. But the lost opportunity of Ebenezer's love affair with Belle is somewhat underplayed, and there are times in Adam Penford's show – a co-production with Nottingham Playhouse – when creativity and clarity of storytelling is sacrificed to faithfulness to the original.
But after months of virtual entertainment, it's an unashamedly celebratory, and theatrical night out.