First published in The Times, Friday December 6 2019
You can’t move at this time of year for stage versions of Dickens’s great tale of regret and redemption. Pitlochry’s festive outing is especially intriguing as Isobel McArthur, who scored a hit with her irreverent, karaoke-fuelled reimagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, has written the new adaptation.
Her take on Dickens applies the same melding of earthy contemporary dialogue with familiar narrative that made Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) so refreshing. This wilful clashing of elements extends to Anna Orton’s production design, with characters in top hats and waistcoats rubbing shoulders with cast members in festive jumpers and novelty hats.
Pic: Douglas McBride
The playwright’s sharp, no-nonsense dialogue certainly propels the plot along at a terrific pace. This might be the speediest trip through Scrooge’s long, dark night of the soul anyone will see on a stage this year, though McArthur’s script does occasionally get bogged down in passages of thematic exposition.
The lively production, too, directed by Ben Occhipinti, is occasionally overwhelmed by excessive onstage bustle. The device of having the ensemble circle the auditorium playing an array of instruments and singing carols is at first bracing but eventually becomes repetitive. Several of the musical numbers go on too long and interfere with the flow of the storytelling.
Pic: Douglas McBride
As Scrooge, Colin McCredie seems too becalmed in the early scenes to convincingly embody Dickens’s “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone”. He is something of a bystander, too, during the ghostly visitation scenes, thrown into shade by energetic performances from Felicity Sparks as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Samuel Pashby as Scrooge’s endlessly optimistic nephew, Fred and Ali Watt and Emilie Patry as the downtrodden Cratchits.
The show is at its best during Scrooge’s chill encounters with the supernatural, including the appearance of Jacob Marley’s ghost (Richard Colvin, inching forwards in chains) and the reckoning with the elusive Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. McCredie comes into his own in the final sequence, dancing a jig with infectious abandon, and the finale, which features the cast leading the audience through a singalong, is hard to resist.