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Creation Theatre Company - A Christmas Carol

26th November 2004 to 8th January 2005.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Spirited performance

Creation Theatre Company: A Christmas Carol, in the Spiegeltent, at BMW Oxford, until 8 January

Creation Theatre’s first Christmas production, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, brings the company back to the gorgeous, extravagant Spiegeltent at the BMW Mini plant in Oxford.

Director Abigail Anderson, collaborating with the company, adapts Dickens’ novella by remaining faithful to the spirit (and spirits) of the original while reinventing the narrative for a new audience.

Festive it may be, but this is no pantomime, nor thriller-style ghost story. Dickens explores serious moral issues through the initially detestable character of Scrooge. The author knew what it was like to suffer poverty as a lad therefore his censorious view of Scrooge is a personal attack on Victorians with a fatal lack of generosity. Scrooge’s attitude towards Christmas and the poor is summed up by his trademark “bah humbug” putdown. When Scrooge is faced by the three ghosts which reveal the harsh truths about the consequences of his behaviour, this lonely and embittered man is given the chance to redeem himself by improving his character traits.

Matthew Hendrickson makes Scrooge a very human villain, more bemused by his fate than fearful of the supernatural. He is ably supported by an ensemble who are cast in numerous roles in the manner of the RSC’s landmark Nicholas Nickleby.

Scrooge’s journey into the past unearths a personally life-changing moment when his pretty fiancée (Katie Howell) jilts him because she has no dowry. There are higher levels of sentimentality concerning the sickly crippled child Tiny Tim (portrayed by a sorrowful puppet). Heart strings are meant to be tugged where the syrupy content deliberately over-eggs the Christmas pudding.

For Creation, this is the most conventional of their productions so far. The Spiegeltent is configured with a proscenium style stage, skilfully designed by Polly Laurence to provide all sorts of nooks and crannies (watch out for surprises!) but there are still cabaret tables in the auditorium for drinks and interval crèpes from the SIX TV French chef.

Go, enjoy.


From The Times.

Two stars
Despite the punctual arrival of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, this production by the touring Creation Theatre Company of the Charles Dickens favourite sorely lacks spirit.

The adaptation is brisk, but Abigail Anderson’s staging fails to capture the novel’s blend of spookiness, sentiment and searing social comment.

It takes place in a 1908 Spiegeltent, or Mirror Tent. Ornate and gaudily impressive, the tent makes a rather overwhelming setting, and it doesn’t readily lend itself to the evocation of wintry Dickensian London.

A bigger problem is the show’s refusal to take the text seriously. Matthew Hendrickson as Scrooge is gratifyingly arid, bitter and buttoned-up. But the peripheral characters are mostly played in a hackneyed, mechanical fashion, and there is little sense of either the harsh working-class conditions against which Dickens both here and elsewhere makes such a heartfelt case, or of the true generosity and goodwill of which Scrooge is so scornful.

The difficulty becomes apparent early on when Scrooge is visited by two benevolent worthies seeking charitable donations.

Their impassioned pleas emphasise the deprivation in which the Victorian poor existed, and Scrooge’s callous response — that the needy should avail themselves of the prisons and workhouses — retains its power to appal. Yet, inexplicably, Anderson squanders the scene by milking it for laughs, with the well-intentioned pair speaking in silly, squeaky voices.

Later, a sequence in a slum is introduced by gurning actors scurrying aimlessly about hissing “Filth and misery!”

The story calls for a truthful — though not necessarily naturalistic — portrayal of poverty and suffering. The production grotesquely sends it up.

As for the tale’s three seasonal spectres, the third is a suitably sinister, silent, hooded figure, but the other two are represented by means of inept puppetry.

The scenes that they conjure for Scrooge’s edification are full of hammy acting and forced jollity, including one lengthy, toe-curling knees-up to unlovely synthesizer music by Annemarie Lewis Thomas.

There are odd brighter moments; Hendrickson aside, Katie Howell and Juliet Moore make the best attempts among the cast to inject some real feeling into their multiple roles.

Disembodied hands wittily pop out of tiny trapdoors to ring eerie bells heralding the arrival of the apparition of Marley.

And the festive feast at Bob Cratchit’s house, where a pint-sized Tiny Tim puppet is happily much more effective than the feeble phantoms, generates some rare and welcome warmth. But we ought to feel so much more.