Published in the Guardian
WICKED witches and angry giants may be stalking stages across the land, but none can be as terrifying as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future that haunt this tremendous adaptation of the Dickens novella.
The first venture into the seasonal market by the National Theatre of Scotland, Graham McLaren's production begins in an atmosphere of prank-playing jollity as the cast welcomes us into the offices of Scrooge and Marley, tearing up our tickets and showing us to our seats, but switches into the realm of gothic horror once it's time for Scrooge to face his demons.
Performed in a small room in the former Govan Town Hall, the walls stacked high with ledgers and scrolls, the show brings us distressingly close to the story's terrors. Benny Young makes an austere Presbyterian Scrooge, gaunt, grubby and humourless; the last man you'd ever feel sympathy for. Yet when Gavin Glover's superlative puppets magically appear through the apparently solid walls of the set, they have such a fearsome, otherworldly demeanour, you can only feel for the guy.
The spirit of Jacob Marley, manipulated by three of the five-strong ensemble, is a rasping, skeletal creature, wrapped in bandages that seemingly stretch down into the underworld. Accompanied by a rumbling live score by Jon Beales, his is the first of a series of visitations: a floating, ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past; a towering, silent Ghost of Christmas Future; talking shadows on the walls, and a sad vision of a blue-faced Cratchit family.
It is rare to see horror so intensively evoked in the theatre, but it's not only for effect. Rather than being a sentimental portrait of a man who doesn't like Christmas, this is an evocation of an unjust society - the true horror of Dickens's tale - and a powerful broadside against anyone who thinks there's no such thing as society.
© Mark Fisher, 2011 (pic: Peter Dibdin)
More coverage at theatreSCOTLAND.com
Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND updates
Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND discussion