A Christmas Carol

Looking back to when my children were younger, A Christmas Carol at the Bolton Octagon is the sort of show I would love to have taken them to.  For a start the Octagon is a really welcoming theatre, and the ‘in the round’ setting means you’re close to the action; you can see everything that’s happening.  Although the cast never directly interact with the audience, they’re acutely aware of our presence, and their timing is spot on.  They’re joined by a team of young people who add real depth to the performance.

Cold hearted Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by his deceased partner Marley, and three ‘Spirits of Christmas’, that make him change his ways.  Marc Small’s Scrooge is quite different from any I have seen before, softer, more misguided than permanently cold hearted.  I’m sure Charles Dickens never envisaged the degree of physical humour that Scrooge finds, but it’s great theatre.  As such it’s perhaps easier to identify with him, to see how we all, at times, fail to be charitable.  There’s an element of Fairy Godmother to the Spirits of Christmas Past and Present, but the use of a silent young girl as Spirit of Christmas Future is very moving.

And that’s how Director Ben Occhipinti has made this production really work.  Overall there’s a lovely soft side, a reinforcement of the joy of Christmas.  But there are carefully chosen moments of tension, sadness and confrontation that provide a strong contrast; no more so than the entrance of the children that represent the evils of people.  Actors double up as musicians, and provide a very effective soundtrack to the narrative.  The story is clear, the characters are strongly defined and the pace is fast.  And for a production in the round that has limited scope for set, it’s highly visual with clever use of screens.

I’m always fascinated by theatre designed for families and young children; these can be the most demanding audiences, the ones that are hardest to engage.  By cleverly using both physical and emotional pace, the production manages to maintain interest all the way through – much in the way that street theatre does.  Ultimately it’s an engaging, life affirming performance.

Bolton Octagon until 13 January.

Photo by Richard Davenport

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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