I fear I have lost count of the number of productions of A Christmas Carol being staged in London this year. It’s not surprising really, the Charles Dickens classic wouldn’t work at any other time of the year, so this short window of opportunity needs to be firmly grasped. The question then, is how to make your production stand out from all the rest? For many, the answer is giving it a unique spin.
Fitzrovia Radio Hour have certainly turned this production on it’s head, and anyone expecting the traditional story will find it, albeit wrapped up in a completely different story all together. This is the second year running for this version of A Christmas Carol, written by the team behind Fitzrovia Radio Hour, Tom Mallaburn and Jon Edgley Bond, this year it’s at Christmas in Leicester Square.
The concept is that you are watching a 1940’s live radio broadcast of A Christmas Carol, with five actors playing all the parts, as well as generating all of the required sound effects. An introductory pre-amble explains that we are not in the prestigious Wyndham’s Theatre as planned, due to an unfortunate ‘accident’ involving Stanley De Pfeffel (The Archers, Michael Lumsden), who not only wrote this version of the play (the Dickens one), but has also starred as Scrooge for the last eighteen years.
As a result, Ernest Andrew (Samuel Collings) gives up his usual role of Tiny Tim to take on the lead, which he seems rather eager to do, despite protestations of reluctance. This leaves the remaining cast; Vanity Fair (Alix Dunmore), Beau Belles (William Findlay) and Gretchen Haggard (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) with extra duties to perform.
On one hand we are watching the traditional A Christmas Carol, but at the same time we watch a second, unfolding story involving the cast. It could easily become confusing, but the writers and director, Owen Lewis have done enough to keep the stories intertwined, but distinct.
At times it feels like a cross between The Play That Goes Wrong and a Carry On Film, not least because Samuel Colling’s Ernest Andrew/Scrooge, seems to be channelling the spirit of Kenneth Williams. There’s some heavy innuendo that wouldn’t be out of place in the film franchise, while the chaotic (but brilliantly performed) sound effects, along with the subtle nods to 1940’s ham acting, give the comedy element.
The dramatic return of one ‘ghost’ in particular, and the revelations he brings with him, gives the whole production an air of tension. At this point though, the interesting part of the story is in the actors, but the continuation of the ‘radio broadcast’ does take away from that slightly, and you find yourself, for the first time, frustrated that they don’t just focus on one thing at a time.
If you are looking for pure Dickens, then there are plenty of productions to choose from. If, however, you want to see A Christmas Carol with a unique twist, then Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s production certainly ticks all the boxes, it’s extremely funny, and the talented cast do wonders with multi-tasking performances.