Once you reach late November & early December, you don’t have to look far to find several adaptations of a certain Charles Dickens novella – the key is finding an original take on the story. That is certainly the case with Goblin Theatre’s version of A Christmas Carol; performed in the Baroque surroundings of the Painted Hall (part of the Old Royal Naval College), Ebeneezer Scrooge distractedly takes several wrong turns and ends up in Greenwich – the guest of honour at a ghostly carol service. Though that may disappoint sticklers who picture the action in & around the City of London, Greenwich was an area close to Dickens’ heart – he visited often, and it also featured in several of his other works over the years.
The whole point of A Christmas Carol is the central message of love and redemption, not detailing the geography, so it’s important to focus on whether this comes across. Thanks to a combination of the eerie surroundings and some emotive musical moments, it definitely does. Though storytelling through song can help to pack extra intricacies into a short show (either with emotional performances or peppering numbers with lots of little details), condensing the tale down to around 60 minutes does still make Scrooge’s change of character feel like it’s developing a tad faster than you’d expect – though Mia Jerome does well in showing the idea of change subtly take hold of Scrooge following his encounters with Tiny Tim and his future grave.
By and large the cast combat the echoey nature of the room, and even manage to use the unique acoustics to their advantage. Here is where it definitely helps to be mostly communicating through music – by not having to cram lots of dialogue in, the cast can afford to take their time with delivery and ensure that the audience (seated in the round) can hear pretty much every syllable.
Matt Burns leads proceedings well as a guitar-clad Jacob Marley, the ghost of Scrooge’s old business partner who draws him to the supernatural celebrations in order to open his eyes; for the most part the show is a fairly light-hearted affair, but Burns is capable of leading us down a slightly darker path – there are hints of the diabolical as he rebuffs Scrooge’s attempts to leave the ‘party’. Victoria Boyce, Niccolò Curradi & Rob Gathercole ably support, taking on the remaining roles (notably the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present & Yet to Come) whilst also providing the bulk of the musical backing. And the beauty of the concept of this production is that we audience members get the real sense that we are the ghostly congregation gathered to watch this most unearthly of carol services.
It is a real achievement to come up with such an original spin on the source material, and then deliver with a selection of truly excellent songs and memorable performances – even finding a way of making us question the fate of Tiny Tim..! And for a cold, dark (almost) winter night, the fact that it can whisk us off on this magical journey for an hour and then send us on our merry way is a gift in itself. A very special way in which to introduce someone to (or revisit) the story this festive season.
My verdict? A truly original take on the well-known festive story – the songs and atmospheric surroundings make for a very special event.