A Christmas Carol
I have been looking for an excuse to go to the Greenwich Playhouse for bloomin’ ages, but nothing in the normal programme has really appealed before, so I was delighted to see that not only were they doing a classic Christmas story as a festive piece, but also that it was adapted by Brian Sibley (Who he? Remember that R4 adaptation of Lord of the Rings? Well, he…) Certainly enough to get me to climb the back stairs of what is now Bellushi’s (is that not a dreadful 80s name for a bar?) and discover what Greenwich’s other theatre has to offer.
I had been warned by so many people the place was utterly minute that I was actually surprised by the size of it – not as small as everybody had made out – but still hardly The Palladium. It’s clearly an old garret that’s even unsuitable for putting bunk beds in as part of the St Christopher’s Inn chain of hostels, but perfectly useable as a baby theatre. It has seats three quarters of the way round for this show, put on slight risers so everybody gets a reasonable view – better in that respect than somewhere like Blackheath Halls which is all on the same level and a poor view if you’re stuck at the back.
There are lovely little features like the original twisty iron supports across the ceiling – and less lovely features such as the very strong smell of mothballs – though actually for this show it was such perfect Odorama that I will be prepared to eat my words if someone tells me it was part of the set.
Talking of which, that set was great. Bare brick wall and bits of old tat, improvised into various things during the action – simple and absolutely ideal for the piece. There was something of Dennis Severs* attic rooms about it – the most honest feel for A Christmas Carol that I’ve ever come across. And I’m counting Patrick Stewart, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue AND the Muppets in that…
But onto the show. Eight actors on a stage that small is pretty impressive stuff and in a theatre that can’t seat more than about 60 people, some of whom will be concessions, I don’t even want to think about what they must be being paid – and for that kind of remuneration, you might expect some pretty piss-poor acting. I am happy to report that it’s excellent.
Scrooge is a triumph – both furious and funny at the same time – I bet he’s played Malvolio a few times… His fabulous pomposity is offset by the gravitas of Dickens himself (a character-addition that could have backfired badly but doesn’t) who follows the characters around like a fourth ghost. The supporting cast charges around (and I mean charges around – personally I would have removed the Blakies in their shoes on that wooden floor) being all the other characters. Not one of them lets down the pace or the feel and despite the cast-of-thousands character changes, there is never any doubt who anyone is.
The costumes, though clearly fashioned from cheap fabrics, are nicely put together so that they work really well (even if one of the girls needs to put a couple more hooks & eyes in hers – something of which she is, thankfully, aware, wearing a nice black vest underneath, just in case…)
It’s an unsentimental production – despite the sugary qualities of the original – not a sprig of holly in sight – and yet, somehow, it manages to bring a deep sensation of good cheer to a cold loft of a theatre. And, a good thing, given the proximity of the cast to the audience, it bears up well to close inspection. The ghosts, each of them puppets, are deeply creepy and affecting – as is young Tiny Tim, who is in no way ‘cute.’ His puppet is, frankly, a bit scary – and yet it works – we care about this tiny, ugly figure, because the actors do.
I have no idea how they manage to put on a show of this quality in a theatre this small, but hey – I’m not going to delve too deep. I thoroughly recommend you take a chance and get a ticket for this festive-without-being-cloying seasonal show. Probably a bit scary for tiny tots, older children should be fine – and it’s good grown-up fare too.
* If you haven’t come across Dennis Severs House – do it NOW. Don’t think. Go to http://www.dennissevershouse.co.uk/ (turning off your blocked-pop-ups) and book a slot for their “Silent Night” installation. It’s just not the same any other time of year. Not suitable for kiddies.