Review: ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Leeds Playhouse

unnamed (2).jpg

Adam Bruce

  • Associate United Kingdom Critic

Every Christmas, I’ve always been excited to see what the Leeds Playhouse has in store as part of its seasonal fare. Now, near the end of its winter season, during which time the theatre has been presenting an eclectic mix of work in its pop-up theatre space, the Playhouse has brought a classic to the stage. Temporal Christmas ghosts, moral tales and opportunities for charming ensemble storytelling? You guessed it: it’s none other than Charles Dickens’ festive favourite ‘A Christmas Carol’, adapted by Deborah McAndrew and directed by Amy Leach.

I’m positive you know the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by now, but just in case: it’s the 19th century. Ebenezer Scrooge is an elderly miser who scrimps on everything, including paying his clerk and giving gifts. Adamant he’ll remain stuck in his ways, which have consequently cost him a decent social life, friends and a loving family, he settles in on Christmas Eve for another lonely Christmas. But just as he’s about to sleep, he’s visited by the spirit of his former late business partner, followed in turn by three ghosts who teach him a valuable lesson. 

Though one of Dickens’ shorter narratives, ‘A Christmas Carol’ demands attention to detail and depth of clarity when being adapted, and especially when being adapted for the stage, requiring a robust directorial vision to allow the text to land and soar. This is exactly what happens when McAndrew’s adaptation is placed under Leach’s command: we witness an intimate, elevated condensation of one of the season’s greatest stories. Her directorial vision sees the play-world tightly packed into a small yet expansive stage space that allows action to breathe and performative gesture to be amplified by the atmospheric intensity of each scene.

Capturing and upholding this atmospheric intensity are the Leeds Playhouse ensemble, who fluidly alternate between roles to both effectively create the illusion of an expansive society and charge the storytelling dialogue at the heart of Leach’s vision. Each performer - Robert Pickavance, Dan Parr, Lladel Bryant, Tessa Parr, Elexi Walker, Susan Twist, Jo Mousley, Darren Kuppan and Joe Alessi - brings sensitivity, unrelenting energy and playfulness to their well-crafted portrayals. As a result, we are completely drawn into a play-world where cheeky spirits and poignant tales of morality interweave and collide to deliver a fresh approach to Dickensian adaptation. The production even respectfully nods to the primarily dominant form of festive theatre (primarily pantomime) for a brief moment after the interval, reminding us of its legacy in the theatrical landscape whilst cleverly using it to convey meaning and add texture to Leach’s play-world. 

Housing the action is Hayley Grindle’s beautiful set, which makes economic use of the stage space to allow fluidity of movement and swift passage through several locations in the narrative, whilst also thematically capturing the industrial brick and mortar style that forms the foundations of the often unforgiving yet malleable world of Dickens’ novella. Josh Carr’s lighting design also adds a powerful cinematic texture to the proceedings, streamlining the action and harmonising perfectly with both Grindle’s design choices and the physical performances of the cast.

‘A Christmas Carol’ is a beautiful, moving and well-crafted adaptation of the classic Dickens novella. One of my favourite pieces by the Playhouse to date, it’s a real delight watching its new ensemble go from strength to strength with each production they bring to life. With truth, playfulness and a sense of strong directorial clarity, and a dash of festive cheer thrown in for good measure, this production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ will leave you feeling uplifted well into the New Year. 

‘A Christmas Carol’ is at the Leeds Playhouse until 19th January. For more information, tickets and the cast and creative list, visit https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/a-christmas-carol/