Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Review: A Christmas Carol

THERE is nothing quite like the conversion of a miserly man into a generous one and, flooding the stage with laughing, happy characters, this Gate production makes the very most of Charles Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol'.

It is the second-best Christmas story in the world. The best of all happened 2010 years ago, in Bethlehem, and is acknowledged throughout the theatre performance at the Gate in the rich use of carols linking together the prevailing truth of mankind's discovery, that kindness and love are their own reward.

John Mortimer scripted this stage adaptation, to which I took three grandchildren. They were enthralled and critical. Too much music, said one, too much talking, said another, too many people, said a third. This is all true. But the music is the best and most familiar we know at this time of year, the talk takes us inexorably towards a happy climax, and at the end the stage is almost too crowded with Alan Stanford's huge assembled cast of actors and actresses giving of their best.

Stephen Brennan, as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and To Come, is a sobersides in white at first, then a completely over-the-top Father Christmas, as gaily 'camp' as it is possible to be, then ending as the dark spectre pointing out Scrooge's tomb to him and changing his heart for ever.

Barry McGovern is wonderful as Scrooge himself. His grumpiness at the beginning contains the seeds of transformation. His exclusion of the world from his lonely life, inviting in the ghosts of Jacob Marley and of Christmas, who will change him, is well-presented, and his treatment of Bob Cratchit, played by Michael James Ford -- humbly certain of his place, despite the horrible threats that surround his threadbare life and are redeemed by family love -- is a moving tussle that brings tears to the eyes as Tiny Tim is saved. Go and see it, what a wonderful evening you'll have!