Review: An Edinburgh Christmas Carol – Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, Monday December 2 2019

Four Stars

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.

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Review: A Christmas Carol

First published in The Times, Monday December 10 2018

Two Stars

The transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone” to a man who “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge” is as much a fixture of the season as advent calendars and fairy lights. Neil Bartlett’s stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’s tale is a perennial favourite because it so perfectly captures the blend of melancholy and compassion in the story, without recourse to sentimentality.

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Review: A Christmas Carol – Dundee Rep

First published in The Times, Wednesday December 6 2017

Three Stars

This year’s Christmas show at Dundee Rep (the ensemble’s first under its new artistic director Andrew Panton) represents a welcome return to festive themes. The company has spent the past four Christmases mining the unseasonal tales of Roald Dahl, from The BFG to George’s Marvellous Medicine.

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Review: Scrooge! – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

First published in The Times, Monday December 19 2016

Four Stars


One might have assumed that Pitlochry Festival Theatre had exhausted the available supply of festive-themed musicals, following productions in recent years of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street as well as a couple of outings for the company’s masterful staging of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. It was perhaps inevitable that the theatre in the hills would eventually get around to mounting this chirrupy version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, based on the 1970 film that starred Albert Finney as the titular moneylender.

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Review: Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing – Live Theatre, Newcastle

First published in The Times, Wednesday November 23 2016

Three Stars

The life of Harriet Martineau is eventful enough to provide material for several plays. At her peak, in the mid-19th century, the prolific writer, social commentator and proto-feminist outsold Charles Dickens. Queen Victoria was such a fan that she invited Martineau to her coronation. Given that her own mother believed that her daughters should never be seen in public with pens in their hands, Martineau’s success as a writer is all the more remarkable.

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Review: Hard Times – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

First published in The Times, Friday September 16 2016

Four Stars

Size isn’t everything. When David Edgar adapted Charles Dickens’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby for the Royal Shakespeare Company back in 1980, the production ran to eight-and-a-half hours and featured a dramatis personae of 115 speaking parts. The show, directed by Trevor Nunn, scooped major awards and transferred to Broadway, but it doesn’t take a genius to explain why Edgar’s 1000-page script has rarely been revived since.

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Review: Adam Long’s Dickens Abridged – Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh Fringe

First published in The Times, Saturday August 29 2015

Four Stars

It is nearly 30 years since the Reduced Shakespeare Company first brought their Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) to the Edinburgh Fringe. These days you can’t move at the world’s biggest arts festival for 60-minute parodies of everything from Hamlet to Breaking Bad, but the original vintage is still the best – as this enjoyable musical comedy, written and directed by Adam Long, one of the founding members of the RSC, attests.

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Review: Great Expectations – Dundee Rep

First published in The Times, Tuesday June 16 2015

Four Stars

Stage and screen adaptations of Dickens have tended to emphasise the epic scale of the author’s novels. The 15-part Bleak House for BBC television is a case in point, as is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s nine-hour version of Nicholas Nickleby from 1980. But this revival of Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Great Expectations for Dundee Rep and Perth’s Horsecross Arts is one of those rare things: a literary adaptation that abridges the novel’s sprawl without losing sight of the author’s themes of class, social mobility, love and hope.

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