A Christmas Carol

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Ben Occhipinti's production of 'A Christmas Carol' at Pitlochry Festival Theatre begins with a bit of a New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band vibe.  The ensemble cast joyfully and raucously marching through the audience singing and playing a brass band arrangement of 'Deck The Halls'.

At its heart, Dickens 'A Christmas Carol', is like a lot of great festive tales ('It's A Wonderful Life', 'Shop Around The Corner' ... ahem ... 'Die-Hard'), is a tale of redemption and healing.  This is the first version of the story that, under Rob Hilley's musical direction, has put music at the centre of that process and it pays dividends.

One of the greatest strengths of The Pitlochry Festival Theatre is the versatility of its preternaturally talented repertory cast.  For someone who can't act, sing or play an instrument to a particularly high level it is slightly humbling to see a stage A Christmas Carol Review - Scrooge and Cratchitfull of people doing all three so utterly convincingly. 

Particular musical standouts for me are Rachael McAllister (Mrs Weggersby/Janet) on Trombone, Emily Patry (Fezziwig/Mrs Cratchit) on the bass drum and Felicity Sparks (Ghost of Christmas Present) on clarinet.

Colin McCredie is younger than your average Scrooge so he's got a lot to prove in the curmudgeon stakes.  This is something he does with relish, hoovering menacingly over Ali Watt's Cratchit as he toils at an oversized ledger.  For me, the pre-reformation Ebenezer Scrooge's character and attitude are crystalised by one brutal, killer line.  When told that some people would rather die than go to a poor house, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population" is the reply McCredie delivers with chilling stoniness.

Colin McCredie is younger than your average Scrooge so he's got a lot to prove in the curmudgeon stakes.

Of course, things start happening with the arrival of Scrooge's unwanted spectral house guests.  I read in another review that temperature in the auditorium seemed to drop when the ghost of Jacob Marley (Richard Colvin) made his entrance. That writer didn't imagine it, and my goosebumps are further bumpified by the creepy sound design.  The high pitched metallic sound of a glockenspiel being played with a bow and a growling John Carpenter-esque synth oscillating wildly.

Anna Orton's beautiful set bends and twists as Scrooge is thrown backwards and forwards in time, beginning the slow process of regaining his humanity as he puts his life under the microscope.  Florence Odumosu as his first love (before even A Christmas Carol Review - Ebenezer and Companymoney) Belle and Emilie Patry as his kind and charismatic boss Fezziwig bring warmth and soul to their roles.

There is something about 'A Christmas Carol' that makes it particularly malleable to reinterpretation.  Some past adaptations have been radical.  'A Blackadder Christmas Carol' starts with Ebenezer as 'the nicest man in England' and becoming bitter, vengeful and uncharitable.  

In this version, playwright Isobel McArthurs changes are a little more subtle.  There is a lovely little 'Citizen Kane' nod with the introduction of Scrooge's very own 'Rosebud', a stuffed bear called 'Fleecey'.  McArthur (and McCredie) do a great job of starting the story with a fairly two-dimensional (but eminently entertaining) almost villainous character and through each ghostly encounter adding more flesh to his bones.

When the road to Damascus moment finally arrives and Scrooge wakes up a new man on Christmas day, McCredie plays it with unbridled relish, vigorously dad dancing amongst the audience (to the great amusement of the troop of Brownies in the front row).  The show ends with a sing-along and a flurry of snowfall.  You can't get more Christmassy than that.  The only thing missing is a box of After Eight mints and The Queens Speech.


A Christmas Carol is on at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until the 23rd December. 

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