Tuesday, 22 December 2020

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic (Online)

The Old Vic in London has embraced fully the idea of streaming live theatre with its In-Camera productions and this version of their award-winning A Christmas Carol is thrilling to watch from the comfort of your own home. They fully seize the opportunity with a multicamera socially distanced live performance from the stage of their theatre into your home to give it an intimacy and supernatural feel that is simply brilliant.

Shot with up to 9 cameras at once from the rear of the stage towards the auditorium lit by lanterns hanging from the walls with the band in the Circle and a long walkway towards a bright light at the rear of the empty Stalls it constantly reminds you that this is live theatre, and this is what we are missing. Yet it is slickly and thrillingly edited together using split screens and crossfades of cameras in a highly creative way which gives it a unique feel and brings the actors closer together than they can be in a socially distanced world. The care and attention to this camera plot makes this a masterly achievement and elevates it to a new hybrid art form between film and live performance.

Jack Thorne’s script takes the characters from the 1843 novel but departs from some of the detail in other stage and film adaptations of the work. Fezziwig (here played by the wonderful Clive Rowe) to whom Scrooge is apprenticed as a young boy is an undertaker when he is usually portrayed as a moneylender, the Ghost of Christmas present foretells of the death of Tiny Tim not the Ghost of Christmas future and his dead sister Fan (a quietly assertive Melissa Allan) brings him the redemptive insight in the glimpse of what the future might be and the impact on those he knows. The classic moment when he leans out of the window and orders the street urchin to buy a turkey is changed to persuading his nephew (Eugene McCoy) to take his dinner around to Bob Cratchit’s home. The effect is to focus us much more on how cynical and unforgiving Scrooge is and compared to other versions his insight into how he and why he should change comes much later and more abruptly in his ghostly encounters. The musical version (recently reviewed at the Dominion) seems to explain much more clearly why he became a miserly money lender (when he encounters the ghost of Christmas past) and we see him opens his eyes to the need to change much earlier.

Matthew Warchus’s direction keeps Scrooge (wonderfully and masterfully played by Andrew Lincoln) centre stage and portrays his as a gritty sweaty lonely man whose obsession blinds him to the love around him. He hammers home the underlying message of the original story that it is never too late to change and think of other less well off than yourself especially at Christmas with an intrusive overlay graphic asking for donations just as Scrooge’s eyes are opened to the joy of Christmas and then a well-judged short speech from Lincoln at the end asking for donations to the Food Cycle charity.

There are good supporting performances from John Dagliesh as his employee Bob Cratchit, Julie Jupp as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Michael Rouse as a rather friendly Marley, Golda Rosheuvel as blinded Ghost of Christmas present, Gloria Obianyo as the thwarted love interest Belle and from a charming young person playing Tiny Tim. In what must be a complicated blocking the ensemble feel to the cast is perfectly executed.

The whole production is beautifully underscored by a selection of Christmas Carols and each act opens and the whole show closes with the cast playing tunes on bells seated on the stage reminding us again of the time of year and the theatricality of the show. it is also atmospherically and artfully lit and despite the multi-camera capture and multitude of cuts between them helps seamlessly create a single spectral feel.

This year there are many versions of the familiar A Christmas Carol story (this was my third review) but each adapter takes the core elements about human nature and the need to care for others and brings the story to life in a different way. The Watermill’s two-hander was simple and enjoyable, the Dominion musical version was uplifting and magical, but this version was technically superb and sets a new bar for streamed captures to aim for. Not simply a static camera at the back of the venue but bringing a cinematographer’s eye to a live production that enhances the performances and engages and draws the audience in just as we experience in a Live venue.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £40 per device

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