STAGE REVIEW: A Christmas Carol @ Northern Stage, Newcastle (06.12.18) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Nick Figgis as Scrooge and Clara Darcy as The Ghost of Christmas Present by Pamela Raith Photography

A Christmas Carol runs at Northern Stage, Newcastle until Saturday 5th January

Most people would assume that they’ve seen everything that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has to offer. It’s been adapted so many times, in so many different ways, that it is far more likely to entertain and warm the cockles than it is to surprise. Northern Stage, however, has had other ideas.

Adapted by Neil Bartlett and directed by Mark Calvert, this version of the long-standing classic uses Northern Stage’s space as a round to place Scrooge and the spirits that torment him in amongst the audience. As is traditional, we’re brought into the counting house of Scrooge and Marley to witness the callous cruelty of Ebenezer up close, before his eyes are opened to the wonders of humanity and Christmas over the course of a long dark night of the soul.

We all know the story, and this production (with its uniformly excellent, energetic and engaging cast) brings both the gravity and absurdity of Scrooge’s situation to the audience thanks to some absorbing cast movement, and a use of lighting and props that brings the cold and brutal industrialism of the time to the fore.

Image: Music Director Dr Hannabiell Sanders, by Pamela Raith Photography

What really sets this version of A Christmas Carol apart however, is the music. A brand new musical take on the story, this performance has been scored (and performed) by musical director Dr Hannabiell Sanders (of Ladies of Midnight Blue, among others), and it’s her contribution that is most likely to stick in the mind. Expertly weaving traditional English Christmas carols with elements of New Orleans-style jazz, blues and soul, Sanders’ score not only brings foot-stomping boogie to the well-worn festive elements, but also a real sense of menace and the unknown that echoes the unsettling nature of Scrooge’s visitations. What’s more, the score is used and reflected by the cast on the floor, with office equipment such as hand stampers adding to the percussion, while the Ghost of Christmas Present takes on the visage of a stereotypical N’awlins big shot; fur-lined coat, cane, swagger and all.

The distinctly unorthodox pairing of music and traditional story can be jarring at first, especially if you’re not prepared, but that’s arguably the point. A Christmas Carol is a comfortable story, but Northern Stage’s production team and cast have made a point of well and truly shaking it up.

As a result, the audience engages with Scrooge’s displacement in a new way, and Dickens’ ghost story feels more alive than ever.

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