Marley was dead to begin with – and what of it? There’s still work to be done, and Bob Cratchit has to bear the brunt of his remaining master’s foul moods whilst remaining industrious. It’s little wonder he can’t always bring himself to smile, and no surprise that a crafty swig from a hip flask is his preferred method of keeping himself warm. This is the focus of Bag of Beard’s play, Cratchit, running at the Park Theatre (in Park90) over the Christmas period. Writer & director Alexander Knott has reimagined the classic Dickens tale and told it from the perspective of Scrooge’s lowly clerk; reaching rock bottom on Christmas Eve, Cratchit finds himself in a precarious position on an icy pond – it is then that he, too, is visited by some otherworldly beings. Why should the spectral visitors be limited to just one rich man, after all?
It’s not just Bob’s working conditions that are getting him down; with so many mouths to feed at home, money is increasingly tight – and a run-in with Threadneedle & Stoneworth (two decidedly dodgy characters he met the night before at the Dog & Plough) only serves to increase that worry. It’s not as if his master is going to magically change his ways anytime soon, is it? And he can’t possibly tell his wife, so instead he walks the streets of London, ending up at Tiny Tim’s favourite spot next to the frozen pond. That’s when things take a turn for the absurd…
We are now in the heart of A Christmas Carol season, so it’s nice to see that more companies & theatres are trying to go down a slightly less predictable route when tackling this particular story; London seems to have the Old Vic production on a yearly basis now, so it’s the perfect opportunity to be a bit more inventive. It’s especially touching to see things from Bob Cratchit’s perspective – obviously the tale of Scrooge’s transformation & redemption is in tune with the sentiments of the season, but it’s thrilling to see working class Bob given some agency. It must have been tempting to follow the same pattern of Christmas Past, Present & Yet To Come with Cratchit‘s ghosts, but clearly what’s important to Bob at this juncture is the future; he can’t see one for himself, especially since his encounter with the conmen, and therefore worries about his family’s prospects. Being given the chance to see that good can (eventually) come from bad is the kind of reassurance that he needs.
Aesthetically speaking, the show is very pleasing – from Emil Bestow’s set & costume design to Chloe Kenward’s lighting design. The sound design & composition from James Demaine & Samuel Heron also adds to the atmosphere of the piece. My only real quibble would be the purported need to add in an interval, when it was previously due to run for 90 minutes straight through; though the break does come at an apt time, it’s a real wrench to be dragged away from the action. The second act also treads slightly less sturdy ground, with its slightly surreal trek into the future, so it might benefit from being one continuous piece after all.
Freya Sharp puts in a fine performance as an array of characters (including Scrooge’s nephew and a selection of other Cratchits), providing terrific support and injecting a different kind of energy when she makes an appearance – she returns to these roles following its digital run (as December) last year. John Dagleish also has form as far as Bob Cratchit is concerned, taking on the role at the Old Vic opposite Rhys Ifans (in 2017) & Andrew Lincoln (via Zoom in 2020). This is definitely an opportunity to flesh out that character much more, and it’s well suited to Dagleish’s comic abilities (cue a knowing look to the audience) as well as his knack for creating pathos in the more moving moments. Sharp & Dagleish make a dynamic duo, particularly as the dastardly Threadneedle & consumptive Stoneworth; Zöe Grain’s movement direction really highlights their synchronicity.
The play isn’t afraid to go to dark places, but at the same time is countered by a degree of levity & humour that is most welcome. A Christmas Carol has been a relevant text for quite some years now, and this retelling only serves to spotlight this even further.
My verdict? An aesthetically pleasing production that’s full of humour, but is not afraid to go to some dark places – Freya Sharp & John Dagleish are quite the dynamic duo.
Cratchit runs at the Park Theatre until 8 January 2022. Tickets are available online.