There’s a reason Charles Dickens’ stories endures in popularity. Some may point to his vivid characterisation, his ear for dialogue or his particularly satirical British sense of humour. But for me I think it’s simply the conversational way many of his novels are written. David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickelby may be ‘classics’ but they feel modern, probably mainly due to Dicken’s habit of performing public readings of his works and revising them based on audience reactions.
Small wonder then that this solo production of Dickens’ most popular tale cracks along at a superb pace, easily beguiling its 70-minute run-time. A one-man show is always a daunting prospect which is, perhaps, the thinking behind inclusion of the large rod-and-stick Scrooge puppet as a sort of counterpart to bounce off but it’s a decision not without its own risks. Holding an audience’s attention alone is difficult doing so whilst firmly anchored centre-stage by a stubbornly unmoving puppet is to set oneself quite a challenge.Thankfully it’s one that Dominic Gerrard is more than equal to.
With little more than a couple of props for the puppet Scrooge (and none for himself) Gerrard manages to create distinct and varied personalities for each of the play’s nineteen major characters, as well as a suitably dry and unobtrusive narrator character for himself. Tim Carroll’s directorial touch is plain to see in many of these characters but each has clearly come from the performer and so all work together very smoothly.
Given the performer's theatrical experience you might expect skilful characterisation for himself but what’s very impressive is his rapport with the slightly creepy and cadaverous Scrooge puppet. Gerrard is not a puppeteer by training but the show really comes to life once he lays hands on Scrooge and he coaxes an impressive range of emotion from its stiff limbs and carven face. There are a few minor glitches – lines addressed to Scrooge but directed straight at the audience, a few slightly repetitive gestures for guilt and remorse – but overall his movements are fluid, lifelike and expressive, making the puppet’s end-of-show transition from living, breathing character back to inanimate object particularly affecting.
While the stage can, at times, feel a little bare, the haunting violin score of Christmas standards enhances the emotional content of this story of Christmas redemption and the catacombish surroundings of the Waterloo East Theatre add another dimension by subtly reminding us of Christmas Carol’s ghost-story influences, edging the play’s circle of warm candlelight with a ring of darkness.
With his version of A Christmas Carol, Dominic Gerrard has succeeded admirably in breathing new life into a classic. His adaptation touches on parts of the novella which many versions skate over – Fred’s party, the lighthousemen’s Christmas - giving us new gems from a well-mined tale and its honest interpretation of Dickens’ warmth and sly humour keeps it engaging throughout. Meanwhile, the fast pace, engaging design and tight runtime make it ideal Christmas fare for slightly older children making the transition to mature theatre.
A superbly developed show for those want seasonal cheer with just the tiniest edge of frost.