177 years ago on Saturday, Charles Dickens’ classic novella A Christmas Carol was first published. Since then it has been a staple of the festive period, experiencing particular prominence in our recent years of austerity which have led to increased homelessness, poverty & hunger across the UK. Part of the brilliance of the story is that it can be pitched at different age groups and still provide a meaningful message; for older audiences the political elements might have as equal weighting as the idea that morality & kindness of spirit are vital in society, whereas younger readers or viewers will tend to focus on the change in Scrooge’s character. In that vein, Polka Theatre (and the creators of I Want My Hat Back) have come up with a new 15-minute version of the story that is suitable for ages 4 and up.
A storyteller is on hand with his Fantastic Cardboard Cabinet of Stories, ready to tell a Christmas tale – eventually settling on that of Mr Ebeneezer Scrooge. I’m sure you have a basic grasp of the story: the miserly money-lender is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, before further visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present & Future. His eyes are opened to the plight of the “surplus population” as well as the circumstances in which his employee Bob Cratchit finds himself with his family (especially his son, Tiny Tim). But has his resolution come in time?
Understandably, given the short run-time and the target audience, chunks of the story are cut or told in a more simplified fashion; if you’re after the full story you’ll need to look elsewhere (there are plenty of versions out there), but if you want to introduce yourself or children to the basic story it is absolutely perfect. It’s easy to understand, but far from patronising, with brief explanations of certain concepts where they’re needed – plus some of the ghost sections can be scary for youngsters, so this version eliminates the darker moments to ensure it is fully family friendly.
A folksy soundtrack is provided by Jim Whitcher, and the set & props are designed & made by Sam Wilde – using as much ‘Christmas rubbish’ as possible, in a bid to inspire audiences to reuse & recycle as much of their own waste as possible over the festive period. It’s highly effective, the cardboard frame placing us in the Victorian period and focusing our attention on the important elements of the show – plus the cardboard background scenery is absolutely wonderful. Ian Nicholson is an engaging storyteller, occasionally taking on the role of Scrooge, the rest of the time acting as narrator and interacting with puppet characters (the Ghost of Christmas Past definitely reminds me of The Muppet Christmas Carol).
My verdict? An inventive & compelling retelling of a Christmas classic – a great introduction to the tale of Mr Scrooge for audience members young & old!
Polka Theatre’s A Christmas Carol is available to stream for free from 19-27 December if you sign up to their newsletter.