When I first heard that TrueStory Theatre would be back with a one man production of
An expertly crafted tour de force
I’m pleased to report: absolutely not. Let there be no doubt, this year’s reworked A Christmas Carol might be very different from before, but it’s an expertly crafted tour de force that will delight, fright and astonish in equal measures. Even before the show starts, star Gary Sefton stood on stage as Scrooge, warily eyeballing the audience as they wandered in. Sefton might have been the only cast member, but (by my count) he brought at least 28 roles to life right before our eyes. Lightning fast character changes were often signposted by the use of a single prop to represent each character, but Sefton’s performance was so much of an acting master class you almost didn’t need them. A true chameleon, he can somehow transform his being entirely with almost imperceptible adjustments of his facial muscles. In fact, his ability to engage so deeply with characters that were nothing more than a figment of his imagination caused some children in the audience to turn around with the expectation of seeing someone new make a sudden appearance.
Of course, it helps that almost everyone must know every beat of Dickens’s most popular story by now, but it’s a credit to Sefton’s characterisation and Stuart Angell's directing that you never get lost, even when scenes required him to hold entire conversations between two characters. And seeing one man undertake an action packed snowball fight against himself is worth the ticket price alone. The magic didn’t stop at Sefton’s fingertips: his Midas touch spread to all the props and puppets he interacted with, giving them a life and personality of their own. Even a humble mop could rival Strictly contestants with its dancing prowess when partnered with Sefton. Harking back to his performance as Frankenstein last year, his entrance as the ghost of Scrooge’s business partner Marley, gruesome and enrobed in chains, was frankly terrifying.
Staged at The Spire, TrueStory Theatre’s venue of choice, they have once again leveraged the space’s innate atmosphere to their great advantage. Impressive sound design helped the performance to become larger than life, with ghostly bangs and voices appearing from all over the empty chapel. Lighting was as remarkable as ever, ranging from haunting darkness pierced by a single flickering candle to dramatic smoke filled apparitions. This clever combination of lighting, sound and practical effects filled the room and elevated the production to live up the cinematic style spectacle that TrueStory are known for.
The show has secured See It Safely approval, a mark set up by The Society of London Theatres and UK THEATRE and, as someone who is particularly careful and concerned about Covid safety, I can confirm that social distancing was fully adhered to, with seats sold in bubbles and very spaced out along with masks worn by adults throughout. The Spire is also famously... airy, so be sure to dress warmly.
In many ways, this is a very traditional telling of A Christmas Carol. Although the reworked script makes light of 2020, with humorous references to furlough and the rule of six, they’ve stuck with the Victorian setting and, although the story is abridged, all the familiar scenes remain. However, in other ways it’s truly innovative. Creating a new version of this show especially to fit within Covid guidelines is an achievement in itself, but reaching the heights of previous productions whilst doing so is simply incredible. With such a joyful central performance and masterful staging, watching TrueStory’s A Christmas Carol was like seeing this timeworn story told for the first time.
After the year we’ve all had, there was nothing more heart-warming than to hear one small girl in the audience feel compelled to shout back and wish Scrooge a “Merry Christmas!” in response to his own wishes of seasonal cheer. It may have been originally published in 1843, but A Christmas Carol’s message of charity and kindness couldn’t be more relevant or important to keep close, and this adaptation is a festive treat that will illuminate the end of a dark year.