Ebeneezer Scrooge might well hang his head at the opening of the Citizens Theatre’s revival of their seasonal offering first served up in 2014. While all about him sing of the comfort and joy found through each other in times of adversity during the festive season, Scrooge is the perfect embodiment of self-serving greed. He may have been created by Charles Dickens more than a century ago, but, arriving onstage during a time when food banks are in abundance, Benny Young’s stone-faced portrayal of the self-loathing old miser sadly looks more contemporary than ever.
Scrooge himself, alas, appears terminally unrepentant in Dominic Hill’s production, reconstituted here by way of Rachael Canning’s already expansive set from the Citz’s proscenium arch to a three-sided affair that helps open the action out even more. This is helped by Neil Bartlett’s script, which is already fused with an inherent sense of playfulness in its pared down simplicity, so Hill’s ensemble can engage more directly with the audience. The scratching of quills by Scrooge’s bullied clerks goes beyond words in its depiction of the daily grind.
If there is a lightness to things that maybe wasn’t there previously, the sing-along moments help heighten the late-night eeriness of Scrooge being forced to face up to his demons. The latter comes largely through Canning’s puppets, from the faceless child of Christmas past to the monster of the future who looms in the gloom of Lizzie Powell’s lighting, where Nikola Kodjabasha’s live score played by the cast clatters and rumbles.
If there is one figure who becomes the play’s conscience, it is Tony Tim, the sickly child of Scrooge’s clerk Bob Cratchitt, who is a symbol of how a poverty-ridden society can destroy lives and families while the wealthy squirrel their ill-gotten riches away. Scrooge’s Damascene conversion is a necessary display of philanthropy, as well as a pointer to greater solutions in what might just be the most important Christmas play for today.
The Herald, December 10th 2018