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Stage Review – A Christmas Carol

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Actor Matthew Ashforde, in this leading role, was to be the only player in the ensemble of thirteen playing just one part. Last night, we came to learn that Ashforde had been indisposed for a second night running, resulting in a cast switch around. I have no updated information on the matter to pass on and am not sure how permanent this situation will be.

So, due to these recent events, it has meant that Jo Servi (Ebenezer Scrooge) was unable to deliver the dramatic, flying entrance he had practiced as the spectre Jacob Marley, and we see Marc Akinfolarin taking over that role of Scrooge’s chain bearing, work partner (deceased) – but making his entry with chunking feet set heavy and firmly upon the ground.

The other change: Paul Ryan, having already been a man of many parts, now including in his repertoire, those characters passed on by Servi and by Guy Lewis in the reshuffle.

Confused? Well, if there were any slip ups and panicky moments it was not apparent. We enjoyed it. But, wow! This must have been a real challenge for the cast members involved and for the Directors.

There is an essence of influences from the wider world running through this classic tale. This stage adaptation makes for a refreshing version. Usually the drab and bleakness of the Dicken’s narrative is followed to the book. This is a slightly brighter, slightly more colourful take on this wonderful old ghost story with a moral message; a Christmas favourite.

The creative licence has definitely been issued here; an example which exercises this is to do with the third spirit that pays Scrooge a visit. When it appears, we see a massive rod puppet of a prehistoric, flesh-eaten, skeletal bird requiring a handful of the already hard working ensemble to operate from its underbelly. It is an amazing sight, but is a somewhat bizarre addition.

Its suitability is, well first that it has a non speaking part, and that it possesses two giant gruesome and bony talons, used to point out to Ebenezer those unpleasant scenes, at times when he is at odds with himself to survey, but tries his best to, as he knows by now that he must learn, and must take heed of those all important lessons in humility.

I am sure music composer – Jason Carr, Musical Director – Tim Jackson and band members would agree it is always a good sign when music stays with you after it is no longer playing. My grown-up daughter, an avid fan of musical theatre, enjoyed the songs, and, together, we shared an earworm afterwards, humming and singing together whilst moving through the exits, and the library building and out into Birmingham’s Centenary Square with its Christmas ice-rink and Ferris Wheel in situ.

I believe this show to be suitable for people of all ages, although Christmas shows like this tend to be a genre you either really like, or quite the opposite. Whatever you think, Christmas productions are huge theatrical events countrywide and are a draw for people who do not regularly attend. On hindsight I would have liked to have collected a few comments from children attending, gather their views, and have them expressed here. All I can say is, for me, the evening brought about two firsts for this festive season: the settling in of the Christmassy feeling, and, in the interval break, the first mince pie!

Completing the ensemble:

Roddy Peters, Angela Wynter, Bethan Mary-James, Christina Bennington, Iddon Jones, Francesca Zoutewelle, Tania Mathurin, Joanna Lee. Other characters played by a company of young local actors.

A Christmas Carol at The Rep Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 4 January 2014

photography by Robert Day

**** Four Stars awarded

Note: Reviewer, Debra Hall, attended the press night showing of A Christmas Carol at The Rep (Birmingham Repertory Theatre) on Tuesday 03 December in an official capacity on behalf of Remotegoat Stage. This review also published here

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