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“Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!”
Heartless is an understatement for Old Scrooge, a man so vexed by Death that none can bring joy back into his world, yet pity remains for this “old sinner” as Christmas spirit shines a light on a new future forged from hope. A novice as I am, having never read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, my greatest fear, as with many by the mentioning of Dickens, is that I wouldn’t be able to truly appreciate his enigmatic tale of insightful allegory and allusion. However, I greatly enjoyed this production with its thrilling infusion of puppeteering and theatre enriching the air with Scrooge’s desperate quest to snatch Life from the foreboding jaws of destined demise. Set in the quaint backroom of Lancaster’s Waterstones, the 3 Left Feet Theatre Company succeeded in teleporting back to the 1800s. Back to the dark days of extortion, poverty and disease where the vision of writers/directors, Tom Double and Théo Tomas-Brown begins with Bob Cratchit (Archie Verhoest) and our troubled protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge (Patrick Burton) enjoying dictated, silent company.
Before I continue, I need to set the scene. Imagine. Two men, opposing desks, total silence, one radiating monotony; feet up, eyes wandering, spinning a pencil around his fingers. Now the other; face down, totally emerged in numbers, a permanent frown, pure concentration. Polar opposites. Got it. Good. Both men in the same room but miles apart, an allusion of company. Dickens sets Scrooge and Cratchit so far from each other yet together forcing us to see Scrooge’s heartlessness reigning almighty in the presence of Cratchit’s humility. An abruptness amplified with the visit of Fred (Jayran Lear), Scrooge’s nephew, an angel in the wake of Scrooge’s self-imposed misery. Bringing Christmas joy in ignorance of Scrooge’s protest, Lear manages to light the stage with genuine joy by her performance bringing ironic playfulness to a scene of such sincerity.
Scene set. Now, plot and ploy. Scrooge, awoken one night by the ghost of Marley (manned by Kyle McKenzie, designed by Elspeth Dale, assistant – Hannah Basnett), becomes bewitched by fear as it’s announced he will be visited by three spirits. The Spirit of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet-to-Come; with each spirit granting insight upon the true meaning of Christmas. “Bah, humbug”, what is Christmas anyway? A waste of money that those paupers can hardly afford.
Hark. Wait. Watch.
With scene upon scene flashing before his eyes, full of grief and heartache, this song is swift to change its tune. With the set morphing from street to home to grave, Scrooge is returned to his past, present and future, forced to stand by and see once more Belle’s (Sofia Ingram-Weston) love fade away, his friends depart and even witness the heart-wrenching death of Tiny Tim (manned by Rosie Schofield, designed by Elspeth Dale, assistant – Hannah Basnett). A life that could have been saved, a life that Scrooge could have saved. Mortified by both past and present, fear gradually takes hold as the scene changes to Scrooge’s own grave; a grave long forgotten. Flustered refrain (live music: ULMS Brass Quintet) draws an end to this nightmare as Ebenezer Scrooge is seen quaking in his covers, awaiting the fateful morn. Arising with relief, Scrooge has awoken a new man, a man of generosity and joy. With his Christmas Spirit restored, Scrooge begins again, repaying his ill-kindness with charity and his solitude with companionship. No longer that frowning man scribbling down his numbers, but a carefree soul spinning a pencil around his fingers. Free, at last, from the chains of Christmas Past.
A fantastic tale indeed, that is truly captured by the wonderful 3 Left Feet Theatre Company whose incorporation of not only model by also shadow puppets allowing a modern take on this formidable classic. Produced in just a number of months, this production may have had a few kinks to smooth out but certainly delivered a heart-warming performance of the man who found Christmas spirit, a must-see if ever there was one.