There’s no doubt that Charles Dickens‘ A Christmas Carol is one of the most well-known festive fairytales. What starts off as a dark, ghost story morphs into something that fills your heart with joy. This is testament to Dickens’ ability to weave a story around his reader, choosing the perfect adjectives to inspire the imagination.
But, with so many versions already, how can any performance make a lasting impression? Location, location, location. High ceilings, portraits and coats of arms, the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle was the setting for many a pantomime starring the young Princess Elizabeth. The castle also began many of our own Christmas traditions, stemming from the day’s when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would decorate a tree with lights and give each other presents.
So where better to tell this Christmas classic?
The Chamber is stunning and at times the portraits are lit up which provides a spooky ambience. The story is told by Jacob Marley (John Kay Steel), Scrooge’s deceased business partner who was equally as mean and stingy as Scrooge (Edward Halsted) himself.
The cast take on a variety of roles, including spirits, which are portrayed with dance moves and minor costume alterations. Some of the dancing seems a bit unnecessary, but it doesn’t detract from the story, at least for those of us who are familiar with it.
Acting is good and for the most part, the magic of the story remains. However, the piece loses momentum in Act II. Puppets are used to great effect for the Ghost of Christmas present, but the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come has no physical presence, which removes the spooky sense of foreboding this Ghost usually evokes. This final moment that convinces Scrooge of his need to repent is almost lost in the surreal way it is told, although Molly Hansen is fabulously vile as she haggles with Old Joe.
As we approach the finale, the audience are moved into St George’s Hall to sing Christmas Carols. While this is a nice touch, it takes time to move everyone and nobody really knows what is going on, or even if we’re allowed to join in the singing. It’s magical, but doesn’t quite work as the rest of the show has been confined to the stage.
However, it is a unique version and being able to watch this beloved story in such a beautiful setting really is fantastic.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Matt Humphrey