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A Christmas Carol

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
There are few better symbols of the early twenty-first century's ongoing era of recession and austerity culture than Charles Dickens' nineteenth century meanie, Ebeneeza Scrooge. Neil Duffield's stage adaptation of Dickens' novel is brought to life in Andrew Panton's production in a way that emphasises the error of Scrooge's greedy ways without ever losing sight of the story's power as family entertainment.

With the narrative spread out between an eight-strong ensemble cast, who play assorted musical instruments to accompany their singing of traditional carols, Scrooge's Christmas Eve epiphany is conveyed in an impressionistic fashion by a magnificently pop-eyed Christopher Fairbank. As he humbugs his way through the streets, Fairbank's Scrooge resembles the sort of mean-spirited and compassion-free politician who believe poor people are penniless by choice, and that beggars are little more than scroungers on the make. It takes the ghosts of past, present and future to remind Scrooge of where his pain comes from and where it will lead if he doesn't let love in.

For these scenes, Fairbank is wheeled around Alex Lowde's expansive set on his four-poster bed as he observes his younger self as well as the greater gifts bestowed on his much put-upon clerk Bob Cratchit and his young family and his nephew Fred. It is here that Fairbank's portrayal of Scrooge goes beyond the merely grotesque to reveal the full pathos of a man who has shut out happiness from his life with no more than a sad-eyed look.

While Anthony Bowers' Ghost of Christmas Past could have stepped out of a Mighty Boosh sketch, Lewis Howden's Ghost of Christmas Present is a more genial, Santa Claus-like incarnation. It is the Ghost of Christmas Future, however, a damningly silent projection of a little girl's face, that really brings home the horrors of poverty. If such an image sounds dark, it's never overplayed, and when Scrooge opens his heart to the world at last, it ushers in a musical finale that's worthy of an old-time variety show, and resembles a Christmas card brought joyously to life.

The Herald, December 2nd 2013

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