A Christmas Carol @ Greenwich Playhouse, London

directed by
Toria Banks

Flat Pack Productions have renewed A Christmas Carol at the Greenwich Playhouse, and in doing so have set themselves a lofty goal.

Brian Sibley’s adaptation seeks to preserve, in the dramatist’s own words, Dickens’ intense emotional involvement with the business of saving Scrooge’s soul. And so we find Rufus Graham cast as Charles himself, walking amongst his characters in order to impart advice. He scolds and chastises, he embraces and comforts; it’s hardly a new device, but it refreshes a tale which even for the most dedicated festive crackpot is potentially too familiar.

Graham cuts an amiable figure, ushering us from scene to scene on reassuring arm. Events are never allowed to settle, and the production thus maintains a pleasing and fluid pace.

Like so many childhood fairy-tales, Scrooge is a mediation on loss and by extension death. A joyous recollection of youth must be, by necessity, tinged with a profound sadness; these scenes are beyond retrieval, they cannot be repeated. Indeed, repetition can only estrange. Roland Barths described this as a torment peculiar to the photograph, but it can certainly be applied to this brand of melancholia on the stage.

Scrooge is confronted with images from his boyhood, images of a time when the currency of his life is yet to be spent. It is a situation to which he cannot return; worse yet, his reserves are almost exhausted. Perhaps this explains the miser’s scrimping. It is life he is hoarding, and his initial existence is in no way living.

McNamee’s miser is textbook-Scrooge, save for a delightful ability to pout. It’s remarkable how regressive a hung-lip can appear how evocative; a story need not be convoluted or complex to be cathartic, and a facial-tick can make or break a performance. It makes it.

Not that it’s all tears and soul-searching. When it comes to portraying the more ineffable characters the Christmas apparitions, the diminutive Tiny Tim Flat Pack have opted for masks and puppetry.

If the decision not to represent the ghouls in human-form is a concerted ‘looking-away’ from mortality, it is precisely in this denial that Scrooge is to find his salvation. You can’t take it with you, and the act of preservation is itself wasteful.

But, for all my pompous psychobabble, the puppets are above all great fun. More than anywhere, Flat Pack’s love is evident here. Their deployment will delight child and adult alike not that we should feel the need to make a distinction, as this production, as mature as it is adolescent, strives to teach us.

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