Tuesday, 11 December 2007

CAROL-SINGING

Reviews of Flat Pack Productions' presentation of my dramatisation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol are OUT...

Forgive the trumpet-blowing, but they really are rather satisfactory!


THE STAGE
Reviewed by Catherine Usher

Rather than letting Ebenezer Scrooge dominate proceedings from the off, it is Charles Dickens (Rufus Graham) who opens the play by reading from the opening pages of his novel.

Rufus Graham as Charles Dickens

From start to finish, it is an enthralling, atmospheric and moving production, brimming with talent and enthusiasm. Other than Eddie McNamee’s tall, threatening-looking Scrooge, the cast portray a variety of characters, from the hard-working and hesitant Bob Cratchit, performed with great sensitivity by Will Tosh, to Scrooge’s beautiful lost love Belle, played as sweet but not saccharine by Rebecca Stoddart...

Rebecca Stoddart as Belle with Eddie McNamee as Scrooge

Among the seemingly endless barrage of brash pantomimes and pretentious Christmas shows, this production of A Christmas Carol stands out as something truly worth seeing.

Don’t let the inclusion of actor-operated puppets to represent Tiny Tim and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future put you off - the concept works perfectly. And Puppet Tim in particular is so convincing, you may even find yourself weeping at the prospect of him not making it to adulthood.

Lucia McAnespie and Phil Mulryne give Tiny Tim a helping hand

Book your ticket today. It really is worth it.

*****

UK Theatre Network
Reviewed by Richard Woulf

Brian Sibley has dramatised A Christmas Carol in a manner I’m sure Dickens would approve of. Ebenezer is as mean in spirit as he is in money. His nephew is a thorough decent lad as is his over-worked and underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit, and his poor but loving family. All in the original Victorian setting.

The two central roles were particularly well-acted. Eddie McNamee is a most-cantankerous Scrooge and Rufus Graham is superb as the soothing voice of the narrator. All the cast put in a strong performance, though, often displaying comic and/or convincing accents.

Lucia McAnespie as the Charwoman and David Millard as Old Joe

Maintaining the pace is director Toria Banks. Considering she has eight actors, a limited space and various puppets to work with, it is no mean achievement to keep our interest throughout. Also worthy of praise are the authentic costumes by Christine Fryers, the aforementioned puppets – the Ghost of Christmas Past and Tiny Tim were my favourites – and the cosy props and set.

Eddie McNamee as Scrooge with the Spirit of Christmas Past

It is the story, of course, that really grabs...

In the spirit of Christmas – “open your shut up heart” and get along to the Greenwich Playhouse.

You can only enjoy it.

*****

IndieLONDON Reviewed by Marcela Olivares

There have been numerous adaptations of this classic Christmas story – but few have moved me as much as the one now playing at Greenwich Playhouse...

This dramatization places particular emphasis on Charles Dickens and how he would have told the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. We actually have the privilege of Dickens’ narrating the story and interacting with Scrooge throughout the play. The emotion in Dickens alongside the development in Scrooge is what drives the production.

We see Ebenezer experience joy, love, shame, fear; yes… plenty of fear… yet never hatred and this is probably why the story ends as it does.

This is not a Christmas Story for the faint hearted, it’s not jolly even though it does have a happy ending… and there’s no singing and no children. Yet, it’s by far the best version of the story I have seen and certainly the most touching!

Eddie McNamee as Scrooge and Phil Mulryne as his nephew, Fred

Even though there are so many characters to play, it was all made possible with a cast of eight talented actors and four puppets.

Dickens and Scrooge were played with extreme emotion by Rufus Graham and Eddie McNamee respectively and they did a superb job… It was a great ensemble of talent!

If you’re planning to see a Christmas story this year, then this is the show to see!

*****

NEWS SHOPPER Reviewed by Karry Anne Eustice

The set for Flat Pack Productions' A Christmas Carol, currently showing at Greenwich Playhouse, is so spare even Scrooge would approve. Still, the space was used with such imagination, the show still felt rich and vivid.

The threadbare presentation of this new dramatisation is mainly down to the aims of scripter Brian Sibley, an author who notably adapted The Lord of the Rings for BBC radio.

He was keen to reinstate the story's dreary Dickensian nature and remind audiences of the grit and poverty Dickens was so keen to expose via his own writing.

To achieve this, Sibley fleshes out a young couple mentioned briefly in the original story who are in debt to Scrooge, plus the bleak scenes of hardship get extra focus.

Helped by the fact there are no glib musical numbers and Dickens (played by Rufus Graham, who has poise to spare) narrates on-stage in a dry, authoritative manner, the show is haunting, serious and has an air of grim sophistication.

It's not forgotten [that] A Christmas Carol is a heartwarming, Victorian morality tale, though.

A cast of eight ensure the classic story of redemption retains its warm and witty heart. Each multi-task, taking on numerous roles (including puppetry) and - although at times this results in unbalanced, occasionally rushed and confused pacing - embody and own each character.

All interact excellently with the delicately-operated puppets, which are creatively used to portray the three ghosts and Tiny Tim.

Kudos to Bek Palmer and Claire Strickland, the designers of the figures, too. Their eerie and haunting faces are a perfect fit for this adaptation.

There's spot-on casting on the Scrooge front in the form of Eddie McNamee, whose towering frame gives the grump suitable menace. It has to be; Scrooge is a character so memorable the name became an adjective for miserliness.

By blending Christmas sentiments and social concerns the Dickens way, this staging proves it's worth picking your own pocket for.

*****

THE SOUTH LONDON PRESS Reviewed by Dan Frost

The production has all the warmth and Christmas cheer of a Fezziwig party. So, if you're not into cross-dressing and screaming kids, say "Bah, humbug" to panto, then head to the Greenwich Playhouse...

*****

THE KENTISH TIMES Reviewed by Mark Campbell

There have been many versions of Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story A Christmas Carol since its first appearance in 1843... Dickens’ criticism of the Victorian class system and its endemic inequality goes hand-in-hand with a powerful tale of guilt and redemption. The latest stage adaptation, now running at the Greenwich Playhouse, is by prolific author Brian Sibley who manages to bring back some of the darkness at the heart of the original novel.

Directed by Toria Banks, this is a fast moving production that makes excellent use of the Playhouse’s small studio space. Christine Fryers’ authentic-looking costumes and David Millard's set designs evoke the period perfectly, while Sibley’s literate adaptation is pleasingly faithful to its source.

As Ebenezer Scrooge, Eddie McNamee is a rotund, no-nonsense Northerner with a droll line in sarcasm - far removed from the elderly, wizened miser more commonly associated with the role, but just as believable.

Will Tosh is Scrooge’s likable junior clerk, the stick-thin Bob Cratchit. Scrooge’s young love Belle is sensitively played by a porcelain beautiful Rebecca Stoddart. And Phil Mulryne makes for a delightfully impish nephew Fred, the complete antithesis of his uncle.

Lucia McAnespie, David Millard and Ruth Tapp play all the other characters with relish, while an aloof Rufus Graham presides over the action as Charles Dickens himself - variously prompt, narrator and social conscience.

The ghosts of the story are represented by Bek Palmer and Claire Strickland’s exquisitely crafted puppets, while the deceased Jacob Marley is played by a masked David Millard as a full-size mannequin crudely manipulated by his fellow actors, an effect that is simultaneously comical and creepy.

But it is the character of Tiny Tim who benefits most from this technique. Instead of a cloyingly sentimental child actor (or simply a bad one), this doe-eyed wooden and cloth creation is far more successful at capturing the audience’s obvious sympathy.

Perfect Christmas entertainment.

*****

THE DOCKLANDS Reviewed by Marina Thomas

The word 'Scrooge' conjures up all sorts of images of a cold-hearted, selfish man. Flat pack Productions' version of A Christmas Carol brought the Victorian tale of morality to life beautifully in a very vivid and lively manner.

Eddie McNamee personified the man who said that Christmas is just another excuse for being lazy perfectly and played Scrooge both in adolescence and adulthood with great tenacity.

Adapter Brian Sibley's skills at creating vivid imagery of a wintery scene gave the production gusto and it was also the added character of Dickens that helped make this a special play. Dickens is not just a narrator but also a character, a host, puppet-master and conjurer - setting the scene, introducing many characters and leading the audience through the unusual events of an unforgettable Christmas Eve.

The play was a delight to watch and the characters all interacted faultlessly, putting together a very strong performance, which took you right back to Victorian London...

*****

musicOHM.com Reviewed by Adam Dobson

Flat Pack Productions have renewed A Christmas Carol at the Greenwich Playhouse, and in doing so have set themselves a lofty goal.

Brian Sibley’s adaptation seeks to preserve, in the dramatist’s own words, Dickens’ “intense emotional involvement with the business of saving Scrooge’s soul.” And so we find Rufus Graham cast as Charles himself, walking amongst his characters in order to impart advice. He scolds and chastises, he embraces and comforts; it’s hardly a new device, but it refreshes a tale which – even for the most dedicated festive crackpot – is potentially too familiar.

Graham cuts an amiable figure, ushering us from scene to scene on reassuring arm. Events are never allowed to settle, and the production thus maintains a pleasing and fluid pace.

Like so many childhood fairy-tales, Scrooge is a mediation on loss – and by extension death. A joyous recollection of youth must be, by necessity, tinged with a profound sadness; these scenes are beyond retrieval, they cannot be repeated. Indeed, repetition can only estrange. Roland Barthés described this as a torment peculiar to the photograph, but it can certainly be applied to this brand of melancholia on the stage.

Scrooge is confronted with images from his boyhood, images of a time when the currency of his life is yet to be spent. It is a situation to which he cannot return; worse yet, his reserves are almost exhausted. Perhaps this explains the miser’s scrimping. It is life he is hoarding, and his initial existence is in no way living.

McNamee’s miser is textbook-Scrooge, save for a delightful ability to pout. It’s remarkable how regressive a hung-lip can appear how evocative; a story need not be convoluted or complex to be cathartic, and a facial-tick can make or break a performance. It makes it.


Not that it’s all tears and soul-searching. When it comes to portraying the more ineffable characters – the Christmas apparitions, the diminutive Tiny Tim – Flat Pack have opted for masks and puppetry.

If the decision not to represent the ghouls in human-form is a concerted ‘looking-away’ from mortality, it is precisely in this denial that Scrooge is to find his salvation. You can’t take it with you, and the act of preservation is itself wasteful.

But, for all my pompous psychobabble, the puppets are – above all – great fun. More than anywhere, Flat Pack’s love is evident here. Their deployment will delight child and adult alike – not that we should feel the need to make a distinction, as this production, as mature as it is adolescent, strives to teach us.

*****


PLAYS & PLAYERS Reviewed by Clive Burton

Brian Sibley’s dramatisation of A Christmas Carol returns to the dark heart of Dickens’ story and, in doing so, gives it a strong new heart of its own in the persona of the Victorian author himself.

On stage (in various guises during an evening which sees the small and energetic cast assuming a number of roles) Rufus Graham projects Dickens’ warmth towards his fellow man and genuine sense of compassion in a performance that emphasises his intense personal involvement with the business of saving Scrooge’s soul.

He starts by reading from his own book, a book that ‘attempts to raise a ghost of an idea’ - a ghost which Sibley has animated with the very spirit of Victorian times - and remains a powerful presence, slipping with seamless grace and convincing ease into and out of the action throughout the evening.

In a lively cast, he shares particular honours with Will Tosh as Bob Cratchit, whose stoicism after the death of his son, Tiny Tim, is particularly touching: all the more so because Tim is a beautifully-realised puppet.

Will Tosh and Ruth Tapp as Bob and Sally Cratchit

Under the brisk direction of Toria Banks, Sibley’s very particular take on the story matches the white-hot zeal which Dickens instilled into his own writing and skilfully manages to convey the real-life situations of the original novella convincingly on the small stage.

Eddie McNamee’s Scrooge negotiates the journey from heartless misanthrope to caring benefactor with just the right amount of credibility.

*****

LONDON ESSENCE Reviewed by Caroline Dubanchet

First, find the theatre. Go through the pub of the same name, climb a few steps and sit down directly in front of the platform. And let the charm of Christmas express itself through the words of Charles Dickens.

This adaptation by Flat Pack Productions of the most evocative novel of Victorian Christmas works wonderfully in this small local theatre. A cast of eight actors, led by Charles Dickens telling the tale of Christmas and guiding the characters through the story. And the puppets! With poignant expressions; the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future are both a tragic and benevolent presence.

The acting is exceptional; the setting is dynamic and rhythmic. The configuration of the theatre means that one finds oneself caught up in this spectral whirlpool, witness of the metamorphosis of the odious Scrooge; tormented by the spirits of Christmas. One leaves the theatre with one’s hand on one’s heart, with the desire to succumb to the magic of Christmas.

And, from the blogosphere...

One or two snippets from a long and highly entertaining account of the show by The Greenwich Phantom that (if you really can't get there) is probably the nearest thing to being there:

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.

Will Tosh as Bob Cratchit and Eddie McNamee as Scrooge

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.


And here's part of what my friend Irascible Ian (and therefore a not entirely dispassionate reviewer!) said of the show:

To be honest, it's a production I went to see more because it was an adaptation by my friend Brian Sibley, than because it was something I felt I really needed to see: Greenwich is not the most central location (although thankfully, the theatre is right next to the main station) and A Christmas Carol is hardly an unfamiliar piece, trotted out on TV, DVD and in the theatre every December (there are three theatrical productions in London alone this year I believe). My mistake, because as it turned out this excursion turned out to be a genuine highlight of my cultural excursions in 2007: the production is genuinely new, innovative, exciting, fast-paced, and really, really magical!

Brian has taken a very familiar story and given it a new spin by making Dickens himself an integral part of the play. There's an emphasis on the social problems of the times in new scenes that I haven't seen in other versions, and some scenes that are so moving that several audience members could be seen dabbing their eyes at certain times in the production. No matter how familiar you are with the story, you'll find something new here.

The Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the true meaning of the season

The production itself is superb. The cast make excellent use of a small, but modern, space that gives an intimacy that just isn't there in West End productions. The staging, use of props, and use of puppets for the ghosts and the wonderful 'Tiny Tim' make this an incredibly complex production to perform, and I would imagine a complete nightmare to direct. And yet the small cast of eight manage complex changes and direction flawlessly, while all the time giving believable, real performances. The actors are all professionals, if not household names, and I can't remember a time where I saw a theatrical cast work so hard, or witnessed such a consistently high standard from every member of the cast. In short, it's a real family treat, and a 'must see' this Christmas.

Images: Brian Sibley and David Weeks, © 2007

15 comments:

Eudora said...

Congratulations for the good reviews. Unfortunately there are a few miles of distance for me... But I hope you enjoy the success of the play.

Boll Weavil said...

Some good reviews Mr B ! Must make it all worthwhile.

LisaH said...

Wonderful reviews - congratulations to all! Let's hope it reaches the bigger stage it surely merits.

Brian Sibley said...

SUZANNE comments...

Congratulations on your 'A Christmas Carol' Brian! What a shame I live so far away!

My girls are going to see 'Phantom of the Opera' in February... I am so jealous, but I cannot possibly get away!

I thought your blog readers might be interested in my review of 'The Golden Compass' which I saw yesterday.

I was half expecting to be disappointed and overwhelmed by the new tendency of film makers to go overboard with in-your-face special effects, but not at all.

I thought the characters were all well cast - Lyra in particular is brilliant for a newcomer - just as I imagined in the book. I was blown away when I read the credits at the end... so many names and voices that I didn't recognise watching film.

The daemons were beautiful, the alethiometer (yes, they do call it that in the film) was absolutely as described in the book with the understanding that something mystical occurs every time Lyra consults it.

But what I was most expecting to disappoint me were the armoured bears. I absolutely love polar bears, and these were so REAL! Iorek Byrnison loping across the icelands with Lyra on his back had the exact gait of a real polar bear - so convincing.

Just goes to show that it is possible to make a fantastical film without going overboard with special effects that just annoy you... I can't wait for the sequel! The person with me at the cinema had no idea what he was going to see and he loved it too!

Andy J. Latham said...

Congratulations on a well-received show Brian! I love the Christmas Carol story and really wish I could get down there to see it.

Laurie Mann said...

Wow, those reviews really make me want to see the play!

Unfortunately, I'm a little far away.

Congratulations!

Dixe said...

Much deserved gratters, Brian. Lizzie and I are going to see it on 20th before it transfers to the West End...

Brian Sibley said...

Thanks folks - and Dixe, I'll look forward to seeing you and Lizzie on 20th...

Bentos said...

Ah, so you beat me to the Phantom. I was going to recommend it to her and her to you, an excellent read.

Loved the show, sorry we had to dash, would have liked nothing more than for you to buy us more drinks.

Ask Rufus if he ever does some life modelling at Candid-Arts in Angel, pretty sure I've got a substantial collection of drawings of him naked.

Brian Sibley said...

BENTOS - Thanks for coming... It was lovely to meet you and Louise. Glad you liked the show and I'll ask Rufus about possible artistic exposure!

Michael Sporn said...

Congratulations on the show. I would love to see how you've handled it. The four puppets sound quite intriguing, and the stills more so. Is the play yet published, so that it could be read? That might be the next best thing to being there.

Rob Cox said...

Great reviews, Brian, congratulations! Mandy and I will make every effort to get there but Christmas is so damn busy for us entertainers!!

Bill Field said...

Brian- You are THE Master of the Understated. Rarely, have a stream of overwhelming positives flowed from the columns of the critically inclined in such measure. I believe we are truly in a Golden Age of creation and inspiration, the likes which seem to be far too brief and rare, compared to long reccuring periods of mediocrity.

I also see connections that seem to be without seguay in a sense of "Divine Orchestration" when it comes to the paths we all follow in pursuit of creating the masterpieces that we are put here to produce. No matter what you take on with your pen, Brian, it seems to be a model for how to do that task with perfection. You find the right words to say what you mean, and the right means for them to be said-we see that in your seemingly irreverent, but again, "perfect" use of puppetry, as the critics seem to say in unison.
I'm working on two projects now, one is related to the Dickens' Christmas Carol as well, the other involving complex puppetry for television/dvd. I was feeling beaten down and burnt out by both projects, and now, I feel recharged on both counts. Add me to the list that want to both read and see your triumph of Dickensonian proportions. Many Thanks and Congratulations, Brian!-Bill Field

Brian Sibley said...

MICHAEL -Thank you. I'd love to find a publisher for the play. But with so many versions in existence...

ROB - Don't worry, I understand. Maybe you'll be able to make it after the Christmas/New Year rush has died down.

BILL - How very kind and gracious... e-mail me (off-blog) and tell me about YOUR 'Carol' project.

Frora Bosh said...

Cool.. It's a nice carol and I suggest that everyone who want's to do something in singing definitely read this...