Seeing two productions of A Christmas Carol back to back was a new experience, and naturally it’s tricky not to compare. Two very different shows with very different visions (read the other one here). The Barn Theatre decided to go down the traditional route with plenty of their strong, signature, on-stage musical moments but a weak narrative and out-of-place choices made for a fuzzy production.
Patrick Ryecart as Scrooge felt a little rusty, with his lines coming across stunted and lifeless. Scrooge should be what the entirety of the play revolves around but instead he is a passive character, watching from the sidelines rather than being involved in the scene. This meant we didn’t see him begin to change and soften as the truth was shown to him, which is the whole focal point of the moral tale. This was particularly frustrating when he seemed to change his attitude to life overnight. Maybe a good night’s sleep really does fix everything?
Young Scrooge was played by Tom Chudley-Evans who brilliantly portrayed young Scrooge’s innocence which boldly contrasted with his relationship with his father. Chudley-Evans was part of a strong ensemble of whom all swapped characters with ease. At times, particularly during narration, they were a little overanimated, however this aided them in the high energy song and dance numbers.
The original songs also deserve a mention and as familiar carols set the mood well, I loved the new rendition of One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure. The recently award winning Finn Anderson is definitely one to watch.
These musical moments have always been what the Barn Theatre excels at, and nothing is different in this production. There were several euphoric peaks where music, singing and dancing collided and you discovered how incredibly multi-talented the cast are. These moments are joyously infectious and bring life and laughter to the darker moments.
The strength of the ensemble steered the show, leaving the ghost and Scrooge as a second thought. And with this seeming to be a relatively traditional retelling of the Dickens classic tale, this was a little odd.
Where the darker moments are concerned, I can’t help but feel they went a little overboard. Jacob Marley’s overly dramatic scene felt overworked and like a desperate and struggling attempt to scare you. When it comes to scary on the stage, less is definitely more.
The costumes were traditional, as was the language, with recognisable quotes from the book and Victorian English. However some elements, such as the stark set, high tech projections, Jacob Rees-Mogg jokes and using a child as the ghost of christmas past, felt out of place in the traditional world.
Normally Barn productions end on a euphoric high but I felt this one fizzled out rather than exploded. The weak narration, muddled vision and mismatch of elements has left me not quite as enraptured as I normally am with Barn productions. It is still a great evening of entertainment but I found myself questioning moments more than I was enjoying them.