Panto review: A Christmas Carol – Dundee Rep

First published in The Times, Tuesday December 7 2021


It is no easy task to find new ways of staging Dickens’s seasonal tale of greed and redemption. Its familiarity is what makes it such a mainstay of Christmas theatre. One of the pleasures of this production is its willingness to play with our expectations, both as regards the story and the conventions of festive theatre.

Scripted by Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie of Noisemaker and directed by Andrew Panton, the show opens on a bare stage, with the 11-strong ensemble seemingly milling around in their civvies in search of a story. Dickens’s book is unearthed and ensemble member Ewan Donald is appointed to play the lead. “I’m too young to play Scrooge,” complains the actor, briefly falling out of step with the show’s infectious, can-do spirit.

Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Panton is little interested in lavish costumes or sparkly framing. Actors announce their characters by tying on a particular bonnet or cloth cap. Atmospheric set pieces, including the appearance of Marley’s Ghost (Ann Louise Ross) and the flashbacks to Ebenezer’s youth, are achieved through layering movement (directed by Joan Clevillé) with otherworldly sound effects (the sound designer is Tom Penny) and lighting design from Grant Anderson that reflects the mix of the dingy and celebratory in the story. The cast breaks out of character to offer asides, which is funny and right for the time of year, even if it occasionally disrupts a scene.

Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Dickens’s tale walks a fine line between darkness and sentimentality, and the balance of this production definitely tips in favour of humour, romance and festivity. Donald offers a rounded portrait of the miser that avoids caricature, and his gradual transformation is poignant. As is to be expected of Noisemaker, the musical theatre specialists, live music is to the fore here, performed in an array of styles by a supporting cast of versatile instrumentalists, led by Isaac Savage, the musical director.

“I don’t think we can make you fly. Can we pretend?” Irene Macdougall’s Ghost of Christmas Present asks Scrooge at one point. This is Dundee Rep’s A Christmas Carol in a nutshell: offering a fresh take on a classic while showing audience members, young and old, theatre’s limitless possibilities.

Box office: 01382 223530, to December 31.

Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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