Review: A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse

Date: 13/12/2018

Christmas at the theatre – well, it goes together like mince pies and Gaviscon doesn’t it? Factor in the Victorian surroundings of the Liverpool Playhouse, perhaps the city’s most evocative theatrical space, and A Christmas Carol can’t possibly go wrong. Can it?

Well perhaps, but in all the right ways. This being a Spymonkey production there’s a lot more than meets the eye here and , as ever, the cast bring their own observations, complaints and asides to proceedings. It gives this new take on the Dickens classic a riotous air, as if the production is never far from collapsing completely under the cast’s own agendas, rivalries and irritations.

Toby Park as Scrooge and Sophie Russell as Bob Cratchit begin proceedings in the miser’s freezing office on Christmas Eve, arguing over another piece of coal on the stove and the humbuggery of Christmas. So far so familiar. Additional roles are shared by Russell, Petra Massey and Aitor Basauri, all giving their own takes on the characters that populate A Christmas Carol – some more faithful than others.

Basauri, drawing on all his skills as a clown of repute, first introduces the play with a none-too-convincing Charles Dickens and makes several reappearances, most notably as the Ghost of Christmas Present, whirling around the stage on a hoverboard. It’s both an amusing and effective detail that goes some way to describing the alchemical clash of styles, genres and moods A Christmas Carol consists of.

Perhaps the most startling moment is when the first act closes out with a straight rendition of Radiohead’s downbeat, maudlin No Surprises. The juxtaposition is immeidately amusing, but as time goes on and the cast continue through the entire song it becomes something rather sad and beautiful.

In lesser hands this fast-cut style could come off the rails, but Spymonkey seem able to pull off whatever’s asked of them. Almost. Less convincing is a detour into the world of a Cuban drug lord – and the Ghost of Christmas Future’s reliance on self-help podcasts doesn’t convince, though her incredibly long arms are drily macabre.

But the overall impression is of a tight, coherent and very amusing take on Dickens’ festive. Balancing sentiment with laughs and the sheer exuberance of a Christmas show hasn’t always come off at the Playhouse over the last few years. Where the Everyman panto is assured in its filthy lunacy, the Playhouse has trod a somewhat more refined, restrained path.

In A Christmas Carol the gloves come off – it feels assured without ever being predictable and remains true to the spirit of Christmas – and A Christmas Carol. Nothing indigestible here – just a warm, happy glow and plenty of belly laughs. 

A Christmas Carol
Liverpool Playhouse
Until 12 January