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Stage Dragon: GSC’s Online A Christmas Carol Has Plenty of Seasonal Magic

Published on: 20 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 20 Dec, 2020

By Alice Fowler

With Tier 4 just announced, my seasonal spirits were in danger of slipping. Could the Guildford Shakespeare Company, with their new online production of A Christmas Carol, provide the festive hug I needed?

With theatres sadly in darkness, the GSC can be glad of their prescience in staging a virtual Christmas show. On the other hand, with actors performing separately – acting to their laptops – and audiences watching via Zoom, the technical challenges are manifold. Can this ever-inventive company pull it off?

Jim Findley is a convincing Scrooge

Dickens’ classic tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who hates Christmas, needs no introduction. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by ghosts of the past, present and future, who show him the error of his ways. He awakes on Christmas Day a new man, ready to ‘honour Christmas in his heart and all year round’.

Penelope Keith, an ethereal and sorrowing Ghost of Christmas Past

GSC’s online version, a co-production with Jermyn Street Theatre, London, has plenty of Christmas magic, beginning with a snowball fight. Zoom backgrounds are cleverly used to show us Dickensian windows, streets and doorways, with snowflakes drifting to the ground.

Brian Blessed is typically larger-than-life as Christmas Present.

Penelope Keith plays a kindly, sorrowing Ghost of Christmas Past, who takes Scrooge back to the unhappiness of his school days. Brian Blessed is a larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows Scrooge the suffering of the youngest Cratchitt child, Tiny Tim, amid billows of pink smoke.

Robin Morrissey, excellent as Bob Cratchitt

Jim Findley convinces as Scrooge, though his friendly face and snowy white night-gown, which bestows an almost angelic air, means his transformation from meanness to generosity perhaps is more muted than it should be. Robin Morrissey is excellent as Bob Cratchitt, conveying both his anxieties for his family and frustrations at his unfeeling employer. Lucy Pearson, as Nephew Fred, Belle and Belinda, lights up a show online, just as she does on stage.

Paula James as Mrs Cratchitt

The extraordinary challenge of this production is to convince us that the actors are all together, acting in one place. Often this succeeds, notably the scenes round the Cratchitt family’s dinner table, where Mrs Cratchitt (Paula James), her husband and three children converse, fight over a wooden spoon and look into one another’s eyes with split-second timing and accuracy.

Huge credit must go to director Natasha Rickman, adaptor Naylah Ahmed, sound designer and composer Matt Eaton and all members of the company, for successfully splicing words, backdrops and pre-recorded segments into one seamless whole.

Lucy Pearson, as Nephew Fred

For the Cratchitt children, the GSC has drawn on the talents of members of its Young Company. Three teams of children play the Cratchitts on different nights. On the night I watched, Amy, Luca and Nyla all gave touching and nuanced performances: no mean task over Zoom. Emmeline also shines as Scrooge’s young sister, Fanny.

Happening to know one of the families involved, I can vouch for the huge efforts that have been put in behind the scenes, with multi-tasking parents acting as stage and technical managers, not to mention hair and make-up artists.

While 2020 has presented undreamt of challenges, the GSC has worked extremely hard to engage with its loyal followers online. This sell-out production is the pinnacle of that, and means the company can enter the New Year in good heart. It’s a strange feeling at the end of a show to press the “un-mute” button to give the cast a clap. Hopefully, we will all be clapping in real life before too long.

A Christmas Carol continues until December 27. See http://www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk

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