PAUL FOLEY sees a great version of a seasonal Dickens favourite in Bolton
A Christmas Carol Octagon Theatre, Bolton 4/5
WHAT’S the difference between Ebenezer Scrooge and a Tory Chancellor or celebrity tax dodger? After some ghostly persuasion, Scrooge eventually realises that, with a fairer redistribution of wealth, society as a whole benefits and everyone is happier.
And in this adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic by Neil Duffield, Marc Small makes a great Scrooge in Ben Occhipinti’s traditional production. He’s all spindly and crooked as he angrily barks at the world — the poor, the homeless and the sick can all go and die, he rages, the world would be a better place without them.
But, post-ghostly visitations, the re-educated Scrooge becomes positively light and frothy as he splashes the cash and his only problem is that, at the rate he dishes out the money, he may end up in the poorhouse himself.
This may be Dickens-lite but Occhipinti’s narrative pacing and Liz Cooke’s clever set design keep an audience of all ages engrossed. And it’s a production well served by its cast, with Susan Devaney a cracking ghost of Christmas Present — with her broad northern accent and hair piled up and lit like a Christmas tree, she’s as fizzy as a glass of bubbly.
And there’s a marvellous moment when everyone’s favourite paupers, the saintly Cratchit family, are thanking God for their miserable scraps and Martina Isibor’s wonderful Mrs Cratchit starts speaking to her children in Jamaican patois. There’s something beautifully subversive about this master stroke.
The talented actor-musicians incorporate well-known carols which help give the whole production a festive spirit and the six local children who play an array of scraggy urchins aren’t just there to make up the numbers. Most theatres give kids walk-on parts for the cute factor but here they’re integral to the production.
Given the turmoil that this government’s creating, it’s apt that Bolton, a once great industrial town now suffering under neoliberal austerity, should stage a Dickens classic. It’s good old family fun and will provide a couple of hours relief from the daily grind.
The only slight worry is that the Octagon is already advertising next year’s Christmas production, Oliver Twist, which suggests that Bolton isn’t expecting a better 2018. Bah, humbug to that!