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A Christmas Carol - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

David Edgar's sublime adaptation of the classic ultimate redemption story returns to The Royal Shakespeare Company for its third outing.

Adrian Edmondson as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Edgar's brilliantly reinvents the story keeping it Victorian but adds nods and references to the present day including characters called Snapchat, Uber and Hinge, or the occasional nod to the political situation and a certain former bumbling prime minister.

Having Dickens deliver the story alongside his editor and friend John Forster is a masterstroke. The show begins with Dickens wanting to write his latest piece on poverty and child labour, he's persuaded by Forster that this is too bleak for people to read at Christmas time. Together the pair build the story in front of us, weaving themselves as watchers as things play out. 

Gavin Fowler impresses with a warm charm as Dickens and this adds a really interesting layer to the story of Scrooge that plays out. You get to see some of the decisions that Dickens makes when adding certain scenes.

Of course, the central figure of the tale is Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserable old gentleman who has no concern for Christmas or for anything other than debts being paid on time regardless of circumstances. Adrian Edmondson excels with boundless grumpiness and facial expressions that superbly carry his feelings.

Edmondson fantastically carries the role, in the early scenes he cares for very little beyond his office, and oft is rude to visitors and overlooks the feelings of his loyal employee Bob Cratchit who he is very reluctant to give a day off each year for Christmas on full pay. This begins to change once the ghostly goings-on begin.

The company of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Manuel Harlan

It starts with Marley, his old business partner who died 7 years earlier. In a lavish four-poster bedroom, Marley arrives through the bed in one of many fantastic stage effects. In turn, Scrooge is visited by the three ghosts beginning with The Ghost of Christmas Past. Rebecca Lacey excellently captures the role as we explore Scrooge's childhood.

Next is The Ghost of Christmas Present, Sunetra Sarker is magnificent here taking Scrooge on a magic carpet ride, akin to Scrooge's favourite tale of Ali Baba, through various locations which work well with video projected onto the backdrop. 

The final ghost is the darker Ghost of Christmas Future, who enters with a great illusion that makes the whole audience gasp. Christmas Future is shared between three children with Aashirya Budathoki performing the role on the press night. It's here Scrooge has his great revelation and sees the errors of his ways and makes the changes before it's too late. Here Edmondson becomes cartoonish with his glee and delight as he spreads some Christmas joy.

Rachel Kavanaugh's direction is slick. Kavanaugh isn't afraid to balance lighthearted humour and the darker elements. The production captures the heartbreaking bleakness of poverty that feels ever present in these modern times with the cost of living crisis we're all currently going through. The production couldn't be more timely in that regard. 

Stephen Brimson Lewis's design roots the story in it the Victorian setting with dark walls and windows with doors and props coming on the stage to set each location. Tim Mitchell's lighting design becomes a character of it's own, and almost the fifth ghost as it adds feeling and atmosphere to scenes. 

A sublime company brings the story to life, most playing numerous roles. Mitesh Soni is lovely to watch as Bob Cratchit, he balances the role well and is emotionally moving particularly when interacting with Tiny Tim, superbly captured on the press night by Gracie Coates. 

Ultimately A Christmas Carol is a warm festive delight but its message of poverty and survival is the one that will stay with you, especially in these hard times. The thought of what could we or what could we have done better is one that will be ever relevant. The RSC has pulled off another Christmas cracker.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A Christmas Carol plays at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until Sunday 1st January 2022. Limited tickets remain and are available from

Adrian Edmondson (Scrooge), Gavin Fowler (Charles Dickens) and the Company. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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