A Christmas Carol, Old Vic
PUBLISHED: 13:13 10 December 2019
Back for a third year, the Old Vic's magical joyful and socially conscious version of Dickens' indestructible morality tale is worth the candle
'Better than War Horse' declared my delighted 11-year-old after leaving this uplifting and conscience-pricking celebration of, 'scuse the pun, the spirit of Christmas.
It's often said the Victorians invented the festive season as we know it, and surely Dickens' timeless morality tale with its redemptive arc and urgent reminder of those less fortunate than ourselves, embodies that era of philanthropy and abject poverty.
Fast becoming a festive staple at the Old Vic, Matt Warchus' inventive stop-pulling realisation of Jack Thorne's witty, socially consious adaptation offers tears, laughter and joy.
It's a theatrical feast, literally, when the Cratchit's lavish donated dinner comes whizzing down a slide from The Gods.
From the off there's a party atmosphere as the cast hand out satsumas and mince pies and play jigs.
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Gorgeous choral arrangements of traditional carols with handbells create a clapalong knees-up merriment, aided by Rob Howell's immersive in the round staging with a central walkway and magical lanterns twinkling overhead.
There's a deliberate gear change as we're pitched into a chilling ghost story unfolding in the bedchamber of Paterson Joseph's charismatic Ebenezer Scrooge.
From Bob Cratchit ensconced in the miser's freezing office, we segue into Scrooge's debt-ridden childhoood as patchwork-clad female ghosts lead us through the precarious beginnings that have created his true blue world view - that those who fail to pull themselves out of penury thoroughly deserve the poor house.
He falls for Fezziwig's daughter Belle, the product of a loving, cheerful household. But his plege to marry her when he's made his money rings hollow. There will never be enough.
Instead of a wheedling cringer, Joseph's physically commanding angry Scrooge is later transformed in a life-affirming redemption scene as he rallies the crowd to the strains of Joy To The World.
The scene where he returns to apologise and wish Belle a happy Christmas is unbearably moving, as are the visions of the Cratchit's poor but happy festivities and Tiny Tim's death.
And if you still have a hard heart by the end, there's a final flurry of snow to Silent Night played on handbells to melt it.