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Review: A Christmas Carol, at The Old Vic

Rhys Ifans gives a convincing performance as miserable miser Scrooge in winning interpretation of the ultimate festive tale

07 December, 2017 — By Catherine Usher

Rhys Ifans in A Christmas Carol. PHOTO: MANUEL HARLAN

AS the audience members are greeted by actors dressed in Victorian costumes while a sea of old-fashioned lamp lights hang from the heavens dramatically, it’s clear from the beginning that this is one lavish production.

The chains that wrap heavily around Marley’s Ghost are fashioned into a train longer than Princess Diana’s wedding gown – and his entrance as he seeks to warn Ebenezer Scrooge of the fate that awaits him, showing Scrooge the heavy burden he is forced to drag with him, is undeniably chilling.

Melissa Allan as Little Fan, and Rhys Ifans as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photos by Manuel Harlan

Alex Gaumond is convincingly spirited as Scrooge’s former colleague Marley, leading a supporting cast that are hard-working, versatile and wonderfully enthusiastic. And Rhys Ifans’ Ebenezer at the heart of the story is a complex and vulnerable anti-hero.

It’s nice to have a Welsh-sounding Ebenezer – Ifans doesn’t extinguish his accent completely and it adds to the sense of separation from the jovial, festive Londoners who surround him. The atmospheric set also serves up frequent barriers – with huge, imposing door frames being raised at key moments to show how locked into his lonely life Scrooge is.

Ifans may seem a peculiar choice to play Ebenezer – he’s probably still most famous as Hugh Grant’s oddball lodger in the 1999 film Notting Hill – but he puts in a convincing performance as the miserable miser.

This new adaptation, written by Jack Thorne and directed by Matthew Warchus, achieves all the moral lessons of Dickens’ Christmas classic without slipping into saccharine sentimentality. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Golda Rosheuvel), for example, is refreshingly political, talking to penny-pinching Scrooge like she’s straight out of Momentum.

The story thunders towards the climax in a crescendo of morality, but – fear not – the atmosphere is uniting and incredibly uplifting. If you only see one Christmas show this year, be sure to make it this one – it’s a winning interpretation of the ultimate festive tale.

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