A Christmas Carol review [Melbourne 2022]

Artfully produced and lovingly performed, the Old Vic production of A Christmas Carol is seasonal family entertainment at its finest. 

Entry to the characterful Comedy Theatre before the show feels warm and inviting, with countless twinkling lanterns hanging overhead and cast members already on stage playing music and interacting with genial good will. 

Viewers of the 2021 Tony Awards will surely recall the clean sweep of A Christmas Carol in the Play design categories, winning five awards from five nominations. A relative rarity in a local commercial landscape that basically never sees plays like this, the grand production basically has the cast size of a musical, with a generous serving of live music as well. 

If the involvement of magical director Matthew Warchus (Matilda, Ghost) is not sufficient of an attraction to attend A Christmas Carol, the adaptation having been written by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) is surely the icing on the Christmas cake. Thorne and Warchus, who conceived the play, deftly conjure a fascinating and moving world. Charles Dickens’ time-honoured story is swiftly and engagingly told, the hefty emotional impact all the more impressive given the neatly concise nature of the storytelling. 

Warchus’ regular collaborators support his vision for a sweetly spellbinding piece of theatre. Working in tandem, set designer Rob Howell and lighting designer Hugh Vanstone create a beautiful abstract setting, filling the ceiling of the stage and auditorium with a multitude of flickering lanterns, with the stage floor filled by further piles of lanterns. Scrooge’s office is conjured by four hinged doorframes, which rise and fall from floor level. Entry through these doors involves impressively synchronised sound effects. 

The performance often spills over into the audience, with a joyful sequence late in the play seeing the audience take part in the action (in a completely non-threatening way) by passing items for Christmas dinner up to the stage.

Vanstone adds further magic, lighting the stage so that the upstage area can disappear into darkness, allowing characters, especially those all important Ghosts, to seemingly materialise from thin air. 

Completing the magical atmosphere are the compositions and arrangements of well known Christmas carols by Christopher Nightingale. An extraordinary musical highlight is the full company carols that are played by the company on hand bells.

David Wenham is splendidly cast as Ebenezer Scrooge, readily retaining audience sympathy despite Scrooge’s hardhearted, avaricious ways. Wenham’s perfectly understated performance contains not so much as a single declaration of “Bah, humbug!”.

Each of the cast members play an individual role as well as working together as an ensemble, narrating the tale, contributing music, and creating the community of the setting. Looking at the calibre of the actors in the ensemble cast, it is really no surprise that they are able to achieve so much.

Bernard Curry gives an affecting performance as struggling parent Bob Cratchit, the painfully subservient employee of Scrooge. 

Debra Lawrence brings a canny wisdom to the no-nonsense Ghost of Christmas Past. Samantha Morley is a serenely cool presence as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Emily Nkomo completes the spooky trio as the optimistic spirit of Little Fan, sister of Scrooge. 

Sarah Morrison crafts a highly sympathetic portrayal of Scrooge’s lost love, Belle. Andrew Coshan brings a cheery sense of unflagging good will to Scrooge’s devoted nephew Fred.

At this performance, Alexis Abela was totally convincing as a little boy, playing Tiny Tim Cratchit, and her adorably noble performance made Tiny Tim’s initial fate all the more heartrending. 

God bless us, every one. 

A Christmas Carol plays Comedy Theatre, Melbourne until 29 December 2022. For tickets, click here

The producers of A Christmas Carol have partnered with Foodbank Victoria to raise funds to support families in need of food at this time.

Photos: Jeff Busby

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