A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story Review – Alexandra Palace Theatre

Photo: Manuel Harlan

A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story Review by Carla Rudgyard

Rather unexpectedly, Marley was not dead to begin with in Mark Gatiss’s new adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the Alexandra Palace Theatre. This new retelling of the classic tale, directed by Adam Penford, is a must-see for its spine-tingling special effects, and innovative stage design so fantastically adapted for such an atmospheric space.

The set, thick with a ghostly haze, is stacked with towers of drawers in varying heights, like Scrooge’s ever-growing mounds of wealth. The design (Paul Wills) is conceptually brilliant, as columns of light peek through the wooden pillars, creating a Dickensian London skyline.

This adaptation aims to stress the ‘ghostly credentials’ of the classic Christmas tale, using fascinating spectral illusions (John Bulleid) that have you questioning what might be real or a projection (Nina Dunn). Keith Allen’s Ebenezer Scrooge is comfortingly familiar as the character we all know and grow to love. Meanwhile, Peter Forbes’ Marley (who inevitably dies after a few minutes of being, quite surprisingly, alive) is hauntingly regretful, as he drags his giant and realistic chains (Caroline Llewellyn) through the looming mist.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Ginormous billows of blue light (Philip Gladwell) transport us from one scene to the next, temporarily blinding the audience to allow for the next illusion to be constructed. It’s not just tricks of the light at play in this supernatural Victorian world, there’s puppetry (Matthew Forbes) too; most notably a haunting of incandescent ghosts, suspended on rods that fly across the stalls.

What I liked most about this production was the contrast between ominous gloom and festive joy. One moment, spirits apparate with sudden screeches (Ella Wahlström) in Scrooge’s dark and dusty bedchamber, and the next, a full ensemble delights with a rendition of ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ that had too many gleeful harmonies to count (Tom Attwood). Fezziwig’s Christmas party was also a visual banquet, with the choreography (Georgina Lamb) of its jubilant jig to rival that of Bridgerton.

We all know the story of A Christmas Carol, so it was unfortunate that, in a production so radiant in many respects, the story telling leaves us in the dark. The narrator (Geoffrey Beevers), much like Scrooge’s spirit guides, seemed to disappear right when we wanted him most, leading to flashbacks that felt somewhat difficult to follow (exacerbated by multi-rolling) despite the familiar content.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

The beauty of Dickens’ writing lies within the charismatic and playful words of the narrator, whom without his guiding hand (he only really appeared at the beginning and end) the plot unfurled at unregulated speeds with rare interjections from Ebenezer, meaning, if we knew where we were, we still didn’t truly understand how our protagonist felt. It was also difficult to perceive Tiny Tim as the iconically endearing character intended when Ryan Weston’s memorable performance as a greedy young Jacob Marley was just minutes before. Perhaps this could have been a job for one of the several, very talented, young performers, to avoid a confusing association with one of the story’s stingiest and most unlikeable characters.

Nevertheless, If you’re looking for a festive tale to feast your eyes upon this year, I think this might be it. As adaptations go, there never was such a goose as this. The astonishing lighting and design alongside harmonious musical numbers will leave you feeling fuller than after your Christmas roast.

A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story is at Alexandra Palace Theatre until 7 January 2024