I’ve not been feeling especially Christmassy again this year, so in an effort to get in some kind of festive spirit I headed over to St Mary Abchurch with the Theatre Tourist on Saturday evening. Not to a church service (not really my area), but to Martin Prest’s one-man production of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’.
This year I was introduced to the wonderful Scena Mundi, particularly enjoying their version of ‘Volpone‘ in October, in which Prest was hilariously brilliant as Corvino. When I heard that he was the mastermind behind this Christmas offering I was very excited; if anyone had the versatility to do justice to the characters & the story in 60 minutes, it’s him! It’s the creation of That’s My Cue Productions which he has been touring for a few years and it’s always been well received, so that was an even better sign.
You may be aware that Dickens himself used to tour around the country regaling audiences with this tale. It really is lovely that this practice has been resurrected in a way, as it makes for a truly unique experience.
St Mary Abchurch is a pretty building just off Cannon Street; the original church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, the current building designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The most striking feature when you step inside is a magnificent dome, with a gorgeous baroque design painted on it. The church was hit in World War II & repaired, but it has retained its style. It seems fitting to experience this show in a building that stood in Dickens’ time.
The simplicity of the production’s style was just beautiful. As the performance began, the church lights were turned off and we were transported to Dickensian times: the room lit by candles and a man in Victorian garb stood before us. And he had the audience in the palm of his hand from the immortal opening line, “Marley was dead to begin with.” With the echo from the dome and only the most necessary light, a really special atmosphere is created.
It takes real talent to be able to voice twenty characters (including the narrator), and to make each discernible – in particular when they occasionally have to have conversations with each other! My absolute highlight of them all was Scrooge. Prest uses his physicality & skill to bring the miser to life in both sight and sound. And it’s remarkable that anyone can speak almost non-stop for an hour and only need two or three sips of water!
There were laughs aplenty, thanks to Prest’s natural sense of comedy – but he also captured the emotion & sentimentality of certain moments. The warm, fuzzy feeling that the famous final line brought says it all.
This show was definitely ideal pre-Christmas fare, remaining faithful to the original text and bringing real entertainment value.
Besides, who can argue with mulled wine & a mince pie?
My verdict? An intimate theatrical experience, brimming with atmosphere & festive spirit – not to be missed!