As someone who can mildly be described as not being a Christmas person the fact that I came out of the Old Vic after watching A Christmas Carol with a spring in my step, whistling Christmas carols is an achievement. So, in a faintly Christmassy style here are 12 things I liked, in no particular order and prefaced with a spoiler alert.
1. The lights
I've heard it described as a 'constellation' and that is wholly appropriate description for the multitude of old fashioned lamps hanging above the stage that cuts through the centre of the auditorium. Firstly there something festive and cosy about them but also lamps feature in various sizes and guises throughout the play.
2. Scrooges hair
A combination of bed-head and looking like he'd been unconsciously pulling at it while counting his money it was perfect for Rhys Ifans' Scrooge. It worked really well with his slightly dishevelled look that said 'I don't waste money or time on fripperies such as smart clothing and grooming'.
3. Scroogey Scrooge
He looks upon charity with utter scorn but more than that, so long has he been like this, he doesn't even notice or consider it wrong - or does he? Given how his family persist with him, there are hints of a past, of a different man and Rhys Ifans plays it to perfection...
4. Happy Scrooge
...as he does the Scrooge that has seen the light and is desperate to make up for his uncharitable ways. He displays the sort of joy that could only come with rediscovery, he wears it like an old favourite coat found at the back of the wardrobe after many years. It bursts out of him and is really infectious.
Nothing says Christmas like the sound of tinkling hand bells, particularly when snatches of Christmas Carols are played by the cast building up to a lovely ensemble finale.
So giddy did this production make the audience that when it started snowing on the stalls there was a spontaneous applause. It was a magical moment, that added to the Christmassy feel. There was also a very cleverly done snowball fight in which 'thrown' snowballs looked like they were exploding on contact.
The set was sparse but for two really effective features. The first was a set of different sized boxes which were piled up to make various pieces of furniture or stored by slotting them into appropriate sized holes in the stage - sort of like that game you play with toddlers to teach them different shapes. It was strangely satisfying to watch them being slotted back into the appropriate space in the stage particularly as it was so efficiently done. The second...
...was the appearance of four door frames to indicate Scrooge's home. These lay flush with the stage and levered into place using invisible mechanical trickery. Sound effects of doors opening/closing and bolts being slid or keys being turned was all that was needed for them to serve their purpose.
9. Food delivery
When Scrooge decides to take Christmas lunch to the Cratchits home it is done in theatrical style with bolts of cloth draped from the Royal Circle down onto the stage, with the help of the audience, to make a shoot down which various vegetables are fed to awaiting baskets. The huge turkey (it is pantomime size) whizzes across the stage dangling from a rope. It came at a point when everyone was already feeling quite giddy and so naturally got whoops and applause.
10. Un-ghost-like ghosts
All women, dressed colourfully, with a pram in tow, this wasn't about terrifying Scrooge onto a better path but more about appealing to his better self, the better self that we see in flash backs to his life as child. Despite the wholly uncharitable Scrooge you see at the start, you believe the journey - and that there is good in us all.
11. Sitting upstairs
Normally I'm strictly a stalls person but there weren't any left and the box office said the Royal Circle offered a great view - and they were right. It helps that the stage is is central so that the action is never far away but it also meant I could properly appreciate the boxes and door frames and how they fitted in the stage, which you wouldn't have seen from a lot of stalls seats.
12. Post theatre glow
I had a lovely warm fuzzy feeling after watching A Christmas Carol and that is in part down to the collective experience, being surrounded by people who were also having a great time.
A Christmas Carol is at the Old Vic until 20 January, it's 2 hours and 5 minutes including a 20 minute interval and I'm giving it five stars.