First published in The Times, Monday December 2 2019
It is always risky to take liberties with a classic, but Tony Cownie’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which transports Dickens’s festive favourite to Auld Reekie in the late 1850s, makes perfect sense. Crawford Logan’s Ebenezer Scrooge, the financier who travels in the course of one long, redemptive night from miser to merrymaker-in-chief, here seems the embodiment of a Presbyterian tradition that distrusts jollity and wouldn’t recognise Christmas Day as a holiday until some 30 years after Dickens’s novella was published.
Cownie’s achievement lies in capturing the original’s mix of warmth and melancholy while weaving in a gallows humour and local referencing that brings it into line with the Scottish pantomime tradition. Edinburgh Castle, atop its rocky plinth, is the centrepiece of Neil Murray’s set design, with painted cloths representing the narrow buildings of the Old Town. The script pokes fun at the city’s dour disposition. “We’re no’ allowed to wish anyone merry Christmas,” Grant O’Rourke’s policeman says. “Council policy, I’m afraid.”
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
While the show, which Cownie directs, features generous helpings of well-choreographed slapstick, the visitations are unflinchingly chilling. Eva Traynor, in green sequins as the Ghost of Christmas Lang Syne, comes across as a refugee from some spectral masked ball, while Ayont (the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come) takes the form of a headless drummer. Logan’s Scrooge, with his stooping gait and sickly pallor, also apparently has one foot in the grave.
Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
The chill that blows from the stage during these scenes of the supernatural may cause younger audience members to courie into their grown-ups, but there is audible excitement whenever Scrooge’s story overlaps with that of Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye terrier that famously kept watch over his owner’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard until 1870, which Cownie brings into the show while just about staying on the right side of sentimentality. A vibrant, endearing puppet, created by Simon Auton and operated with painstaking attention to detail by Edie Edmundson, plays Bobby, while the same team’s puppet Tiny Tim is touching in his solemnity and physical frailty.