There is something warmly comforting about walking into a theatre during the festive period, already having a good idea of what you are about to witness. Charles Dickens' timeless classic 'A Christmas Carol' has been performed on stage countless times (and will no doubt continue to entertain and educate the young and young-at-heart for many generations to come). But the current incarnation at the Noel Coward Theatre, adapted by Patrick Barlow and produced by Sonia Friedman, brings a welcomed breath of fresh air to the tale first published in 1843.
Thanks largely to the imaginative director-designer collaboration between Phelim McDermott and Tom Pye, we are reminded of the beauty of theatricality. The story literally unfolds on the stage like a pop-up book with ingenious and mostly 2D sets. Whether they are attached to the central pole axis in the middle of the stage which functions as the spine of a book or seamlessly brought on and off from the wings, Tom Pye lets us appreciate the charm of the physical, whilst allowing our imaginations to create a fuller 3D scene in our own minds. (Top) hats off to the team of Jackie Orton, Melody Wood, Katy Adeney and Hayley Gittins who provide an onslaught of impressive Dickensian costumes and wigs, which must be both authentic and practical at the same time due to the excessive quick costume changes by the cast of seven.
That leads us nicely to the players on these pop-up pages. Of course, the big draw of this production is the return of Oscar, BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Jim Broadbent to the stage - after a ten-year absence. I was curious to see how the man, who I would personally cast as every "kind gentleman in his 60's" role going, would fare with the iconic, mean-spirited character of Ebenezer Scrooge. Broadbent certainly does not disappoint. Yes, he relishes and excels most in the humour of the writing, but is firmly and convincingly resolute at fighting off the inevitable change-of-heart for most of the evening's proceedings. His facial expressions are irresistible, especially during the physical comedy moments of flying with the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present.
My only slight confusion is perhaps a result of Patrick Barlow's adaptation. At times the script is a little unfocused and breaks the fourth wall often enough that we ask ourselves if we are meant to be guests at a pantomime. The play-within-a-play concept is also surplus to requirements in my opinion, but these minor hiccups cannot take away the overall charm and wonderful ingenuity of a production literally brought to life from page to stage by a glorious ensemble cast who perfectly compliment the national treasure that is Jim Broadbent.