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Theatre Review: A Christmas Carol makes spirits soar this festive season

The Charles Dickens classic has been staged for the fifth time, and still speaks to modern audiences.

Stephen Mangan, as Scrooge, has a ghostly run-in with former partner Jacob Marley (Andrew Langtree) in the evergreen A Christmas Carol. Photos: Manuel Harlan

A Christmas Carol
The Old Vic, London, until Jan 8

Sometimes I wonder how many of the great classics would be greenlighted or even read if they were to be dropped now on to the desks of script readers for the big theatres. How many, in all honesty would get beyond the first few pages of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? I imagine most of the big Russian playwrights would be binned for being much too slow and depressing for modern tastes. And would anyone realistically go for a Harold Pinter script today?

If there is one play, however, that speaks to modern audiences – as it’s spoken to people since it was first published in 1843 – it’s A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens understood human nature only too well. It helped, too, that he could also write and understood all about structure and characterisation.

Staging it now for the fifth time – last year they managed to do it online – The Old Vic has turned classic into something approaching poetry in motion. It’s fitting that director Matthew Warchus has cast Stephen Mangan in the central role of Scrooge. I first saw him as a youngster starting out in the Nineties in a production of Hay Fever, and, like the play he’s now appearing in, he never seems to lose his youthful ebullience.

This is a great, big, human, funny, sad and brilliant production that’s played out along Rob Howell’s long, broad runway of a set, which runs down the centre of the auditorium and makes the punters feel a part of the action. Snow falls upon them at various stages, while sprouts and oranges are conveyed to the players over their heads.

Jack Thorne has kept faith with Dickens in his adaptation, but adds some touches of humour, with the cynical early Scrooge complaining the scenes he has to witness involving poor old Tiny Tim (Rayhaan Kufuor-Gray, the night I was in) are “manipulative”, and, confronted with the sight of his coffin by The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, laconically observing that: “This is not such an unusual fate.” Warchus has once again given London the perfect Christmas present.

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