A Christmas Carol – The Old Vic

In many ways it must be a daunting task trying to think of an original idea to tell such a well known story as A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, but Jack Thorne has managed it excellently for this new adaptation at the Old Vic over Christmas.

Arriving at the theatre, audience members are offered a mince pie and a satsuma by costumed actors which is a lovely touch to set the mood. The stage is set in the rounds, and the set is very minimum throughout, with four door frames onstage and lots of lanterns above as the main design.

As for the story, there are a few changes and additions. The three ghosts are all female, all in some ways echoes of Scrooge’s sister, Little Fan. None are frightening; Marley’s ghost is the only slightly scary apparition, who walks bound in chains along a walkway from the back of the stalls towards Scrooge. As well as developing the characterisation of Fan, there is also more emphasis than usual on Scrooge’s childhood, particularly his relationship with his father, who was cruel and drove the family into debt. We also see more of Scrooge’s relationship with his first love, Belle.

Rhys Ifans is a fantastic Scrooge, and his transformation from bitter and angry to forgiving and caring is very moving at times, particularly during a scene where he sees his younger self sat on his coffin. His delight when he awakes on Christmas morning is wonderfully atmospheric when he involves the audience in transferring and collecting the food to take to the Cratchits’ house.

The use of music throughout the production is fantastic, showing that the ‘carol’ element of the title is often forgotten. There is a small group of musicians and the actors sing, but the most effective music comes from the handbells used by the entire cast, particularly at the end.

A magical production that has captured the spirit of Christmas. Wonderful!

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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead – Old Vic

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is not an easy play to summarise! Two minor characters from Hamlet question what they are doing, why they are there, and where they are going. Scenes from Hamlet are slotted in throughout, and in between their philosophising the title characters play coin tossing games and word games, while becoming increasingly aware of their own mortality, especially due to their encounters with a group of travelling players.

I’d been curious about this play for a while and I was not disappointed. It is witty, at times moving and very funny. The staging for this production was quite bare, with mostly just a curtain across the stage used for scene changes, or sometimes as a half curtain as a divide between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the action of the story of Hamlet.

The performances were all strong. Daniel Radcliffe was bewildered and likeable as Rosencrantz, the quieter of the pair. At times I felt that he didn’t project his voice as well as the other actors – this is only a very small criticism as I didn’t miss anything he said, and it may just have been that he was meant to be the quieter character, or that he was struggling a little with his voice that day! Joshua McGuire was also very good as the livelier, bossy and more talkative Guildenstern. David Haig was excellent as The Player, the impresario of the travelling group. The comedic timing was perfect by all throughout.

I not only thoroughly enjoyed the production but the play itself. It’s very clever, especially as Tom Stoppard was so young when he wrote it. I look forward to seeing it again at some point, as I feel it’s a play where you notice something new each time you see it, but I think this production could be difficult to beat.