Later this festive season, Mischief Theatre’s A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong will hit TV screens – but until then, if it’s Dickens-based japes you’re after, Fitzrovia Radio Hour‘s adaptation of the classic novella could be just the thing. Rather than the tacky fairground of previous years, for 2017 Leicester Square has been transformed into a Christmas market, complete with Spiegeltent for productions such as this.
Set in the post-war 1940s, the troupe of actors have been forced to move from the Wyndham’s to this tent (apparently used as a morgue during the war) due to an accident that has befallen their lead actor, Stanley De Pfeffel. As he lies in a hospital bed, they’ve taken the decision to continue without him – Ernest Andrew assuming the role of Scrooge, breaking Stanley’s 17-year streak. As the four of them balance a whole host of characters with Foley artistry (it is a radio broadcast, after all), it becomes clear that something’s not quite right…
Before I say any more about the production itself, I’d just like to mention a few things about the venue (by way of handy hints, if I can). For one thing, it’s your typical setup with chairs all on one level; the stage is at a fairly reasonable height to see it from the fourth row back (for some inexplicable reason there are three “posh” rows ahead of the rest of us plebs), but it’s hard to say what it’s like elsewhere, and you obviously need to hope a tall person doesn’t sit in front of you. Also, despite the time of year, and inclement weather, no one is allowed in (even to the large bar area) until about 20 minutes prior to the start of the performance, and the box office is bizarrely located outside the market site… At least the slight background noise from outside is referenced in Ernest’s introduction, so you largely forget about that minor thing as the show progresses.
But don’t let that put you off, please! Hopefully the slight rant above will act more as a guide for you, to help reduce any pre-show anxiety or irritation. The show is well worth either paying slightly more for (to sit right at the front) or to work the system to your advantage.
It’s refreshing to see this almost universally known tale being put on in a different way; not only do you get the story (basically as a radio play within a play), but also an additional narrative that renders it a particularly hilarious retelling of A Christmas Carol. The mystery surrounding Stanley’s injuries is intriguing, and Ernest’s shameless attempts to gain the limelight are hugely entertaining. The sponsorship of the broadcast by Rathbone’s Gin (“Mmm… It’s my Christmas friend!”) adds another dimension, and brings the laughter as the product placement within the radio play gets more and more tenuous.
There are some really quite ingenious methods of creating the required sound effects – a particular favourite has to be Gretchen using rubber gloves, dipped in water, to push along an inflated balloon for the sound of Marley’s face ‘growing’ out of the door knocker. This aspect of the show provides something extra to watch (on top of the actors steadily growing suspicious about Ernest, or trying to keep a personal relationship under wraps), and is especially hilarious when it becomes clear that they could really do with an extra pair of hands.
The cast really do have this down to a fine art, appearing to be highly skilled as both Foley artists and actors. Their comic timing is second-to-none, and they have a knack for the melodramatic. Samuel Collings (as the ambitious Ernest) and Dorothea Myer-Bennett (as Stanley’s presumed lover, Gretchen Haggard) particularly stand out – in part because of their characters’ stand-off, but also for some top class facial expressions and physical comedy. Their commitment is impressive.
My verdict? A terrific retelling of one of the most famous stories of all time, and very funny too – a must-see festive treat!
The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s A Christmas Carol runs at the Paradiso Spiegeltent (Leicester Square) until 30 December 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.