Perhaps this year in particular, the themes of poverty and inequality in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol will be more acutely felt by audiences, but for playwright Alexander Knott the hopefulness of the season shines through in new play December.
In a play made especially for online streaming, Knott writes and directs an astute adaptation of the beloved classic, with a very interesting take on the plot. Instead of looking at the story from Ebenezer Scrooge’s point of view, it is his downtrodden and impoverished employee Bob Cratchit who takes centre stage.
That stage, incidentally, extends beyond the physical confines of The Old Red Lion Theatre with the production using some outside space to expand the deliciously compelling story. In December it is Cratchit who is visited by Christmas spirits and sees glimpses of London’s future, including a colourful trip to 1980’s Dean Street in Soho.
Knott has an uncanny knack of writing sensational two-handers with a whole host of characters which put the cast through their paces. December is no exception. Ryan Hutton gives an exceptional performance as Cratchit, while also having to switch in and out of other characters, though it is Freya Sharp who must be most able to adapt to the complex roles envisaged by Knott. For both, their masterful delivery of physical theatre means you won’t want to take your eyes off the screen.
When we think of A Christmas Carol, we tend to view it fondly through the prism of the final redemptive scenes, and it’s all too easy to forget the, sometimes, quite dark side of what is essentially a ghost story. In December that sinister side is given a certain prominence as we are led through this eerie, and often surreal, take on Dickens’ story.
Directing photography, Charles Flint gives December exactly the right look, the cold that Cratchit so often refers to, practically emanates from the screen. Chilling moments are punctuated with glimmers of hope in a play that very cleverly remains theatrical while appearing cinematic. A stunning soundscape from James Demaine and Samuel Heron provides the ideal finishing touch.
December is another example of the exceptional talent of Alexander Knott and Bag of Beard Theatre, this canny reimagining pushes the boundaries of storytelling and staging. while providing a hopeful end to a terrible year.