No Humbug At Northern Stage
A Christmas Carol
Newcastle Northern Stage
Until Saturday 5th January 2019
Newcastle’s Northern Stage has consistently produced a great show for families every year for a number of years. Ideal for the family that wants to be entertained but not in the pantomime format – a story delivered with music, excitement, passion and panache but no old jokes that belong to the old comic’s home. A Christmas Carol is another magical show that will keep the over 7s entertained.
Regular readers of the North East Theatre Guide will appreciate, we have been taking our son to these shows since he grew up from the under 7s show. They have been responsible for his love of drama and despite the fact he is about to do his GCSEs he enjoyed this evening’s performance. In fact, he is studying this text as part of his English Literature exam and he said it was interesting to see how it was adapted for the stage.
Now Charles Dickens was responsible for a number of stories that highlighted the need for a social conscience in harsh Victorian times. Tales like Hard Times flagged up a failing system of government support. So even though this play is based upon a tale from the middle of the 19th century, the over-arching themes have been discussed in parliament during Prime Minister’s Questions this week. So for an old tale – it has a modern edge.
Northern Stage have decided to move the classic story to the 1920s though it doesn’t feel old. Even the versions of classic Christmas Songs have a modern feel thanks to the live band under MD Dr Hannabiell Sanders.
Central to the story is Scrooge and Nick Figgis is superb as the man who became enlightened in the early hours of Christmas morning. He is able to show the journey for harsh penny-pinching business man to socially responsible boss passionately.
Craig Fairbairn is also able to be convincing as Bob Cratchit – a man who is being dealt with harshly by a mean boss but he remains faithful and loyal even when expected to work in the cold office on Christmas Day.
Supporting the action is a large cast playing multiple roles. Tim Dalling commands respect during Fezziwig’s fabulous party. Rachel Dawson’s Mrs Cratchit providing suitable caveats to her husbands loyalty. Rachel Dawson, Will Pennington, Clara Darcy impressed as the ghosts Marley, Past and present.
Talking of ghosts… someone who know I was reviewing the show asked me if the show was suitable for the very young… The use of big puppets for some of the ghosts is unlikely to cause problems. In fact it is the arrival of Marley and her (yes she was female in this version) entourage that may cause little minds to work overtime. I would say that if you’d be happy to show footage of Michael Jackson and his ensemble dancing on the streets in the Thriller video (and not the scary transformation or chase scenes) then your children will be okay with this. Let’s face it, there was scarier stuff in Scooby Doo.
A Christmas Carol is performed, like previous shows, in the round by putting some of the audience in Stage 2, with a wall removed, and on the Stage 1 stage. This helps with the interaction and atmosphere in the show as the audience sees not only the performers, but also other members of the audience. So when clapping to the music starts then the reaction spreads quickly. Indeed, there was a very quick standing ovation at the end as all 4 sides showed their appreciation to the hard-working cast.
Behind the scenes of a very hardworking and enthusiastic (I loved it when a date stamper fell apart in the first scene due to the keen performance) ensemble cast is a very talented creative and backstage team. Director Mark Calvert, once again, keeps the action flowing and adds really nice touches to each scene. Sam Vivash and Nick John Williams also add to these flourishes with the lighting and sound designs. The vibrant ensemble cast add visually on all 4 sides thanks to the concepts from movement director Martin Hylton.
What helps separate the Northern Stage shows from other family shows currently on in the region is the set and costume design of Rhys Jarman who helps give the feel and enables the flow of the show.
As we’ve already mentioned, our son is studying the text at school and commended the writer, Neil Bartlett, in producing a much more exciting version.
I will finish this review with wee-man’s initial reaction at the end of the first half. “It now feels like Christmas has started”.
Review by Stephen Oliver.
Fezziwig & Old Joe – Tim Dalling
Ghost of Christmas Present, Miss Belle Fezziwig, Mrs Dilber & Harry – Clara Darcy
Marley, Mrs Cratchit, Scrooge's Sister & Fred's Wife – Rachel Dawson
Bob Cratchit – Craig Fairbairn
Scrooge – Nick Figgis
Ghost of Christmas Past & Fred – Will Pennington
Mrs Fezziwig – Dr G Hannabiell Sanders
Tiny Tim – Eleanor Carter
Tom – David Connelly
Peter Cratchit – Cooper McDonough
Dick Wilkins – Joe Metcalfe
Belinda Cratchit – Charlotte Turrell
Martha Cratchit – Rachel Wells
Director Mark Calvert
Writer Charles Dickens - Adapted By Neil Bartlett
Designer Rhys Jarman
Lighting Designer Sam Vivash
Sound Designer Nick John Williams
Composer & Musical Director Hannabiell Sanders
Movement Director Martin Hylton
Associate Sound Designer Matthew Tuckey
Stage Management Company Manager Colin Holman
Stage Manager Chloe Ribbens
Deputy Stage Manager Nichola Reilly
Assistant Stage Manager Nicola Morris
Photos: Pamela Raith Photography
Tickets are now on sale from £10 at www.northernstage.co.uk or call the box office on 0191 230 5151.