_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
at _COVENTRY BELGRADE.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _23rd DEC.

December 15, 2021

images © Josh Tomalin 2021.

When it comes to adapting what is, let’s face it, the quintessential Christmas story (well, aside from, you know, the Christmas Story), be it for stage, screen, the airwaves or wherever, one of the prominent questions always falls sooner or later down to whom will take on the mantle of Scrooge.

Comfortably up there with the Scarlett O’Haras, Sherlock Holmes and Jay Gatsbys of literature greats, old ‘Ebenezer is a role that has landed in the laps of such equal performing greats as Alistair Sim, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart and Kelsey Grammar (oh, and Jim Carrey gave it a go that one time, too).

When stage titan Simon Callow decided to take on not just the iconic miser, but indeed the entire cast of Dickens’ most-read classic, in 2011 with his one-man narrated piece (then again in 2018 with a special TV recording), the plaudits and praise rightly followed, as the timeless genius of the story were allowed to live and breathe through the conduit of one of the Nation’s most gifted thesps.

Fast forward a few years, a pandemic and another bloated, underwhelming screen adaptation or two later (see the dour, oppressive Guy Pearce/Andy Serkis BBC mini-series for a treatise on how not to handle the material), and Callow’s one-man-band of festive treats is handed over to, thankfully, another true great of stage and screen, and allowed to flourish in its self-contained simplicity and profundity.

BAFTA-winner David Bradley – more recently of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Broadchurch and Doctor Who fame – not only looks, sounds and feels completely at home reciting Dickens staples, but so too does he prove himself quite the mimic, rattling off a surprising breadth of regional dialects and lilts as he makes his way through this slightly truncated version of the original Christmas Carol novel in a lean, perfectly-paced one-Act treat.

Four Spirits and a Funeral: Legend of stage and screen Simon Callow (pictured above) first took on the job of adapting Dickens’ beloved classic into this new, one-man (ish) form.

It’s a glorious marriage of performer and material; Bradley spritely, spirited (pun intended) and frequently captivating as he guides an audience through this truly timeless classic. As narrator, he keeps the story pumping at a rhythmic pace, with a keen sense for when silence and momentary pauses lend an air of theatre to the storytelling, whilst in character he skulks, bounds and even jigs his way across the stage, injecting the necessary joy and whimsy into Dickens’ ultimately magical fable. A distinctly Black Country take on one of Scrooge’s potential funeral-goers was particularly well received, though it must be said Bradley elicits plenty of laughs throughout, even sometimes through sardonic force of character alone.

“It’s a glorious marriage of performer and material.”

He isn’t entirely alone on Liz Cooke and Rory Beaton’s sumptuously atmospheric stage, though; joined as he is by musician Sophie Crawford, who adds further punch and pathos to Bradley’s fine work with musical accompaniment (some being of Crawford’s own composition), percussive sound effects performed directly on stage, and a beautiful, oft-haunting voice that carries folk lullabies or soothing vocal backing ringing out into the auditorium. She also shares some fun comedic beats with Bradley, usually involving him silencing her or otherwise poking fun at some of the source material (in the most respectful fashion only, of course).

Four Spirits and a Funeral: Legend of stage and screen Simon Callow (pictured above) first took on the job of adapting Dickens’ beloved classic into this new, one-man (ish) form.

It’s no small ask to expect two performers to hold an audience’s undivided attention for the better part of an hour and a half, doubly so when presenting what is essentially a stripped back, condensed down book reading of a story most will already be familiar with.

It’s a testimony then to all of the creatives involved that A Christmas Carol not only whizzes by, but is also a surprisingly transportive and evocative piece throughout. Yes, this is primarily thanks to its fantastic lead, but credit must also go to director John Terry for crafting such a taut and versatile slice of theatre storytelling, and the numerous artisans and craftspeople on the project who bathe the whole thing in such palpable atmosphere and ambience.

Should you consider yourself an enthusiast of Dickens, good literature or even just the festive season as a whole, Christmas Carol provides a quintessential, must-see Christmas experience that sits in stark contrast to so much of the bloat and excess we usually associate with the season. It is beautiful writing for the ages, distilled and stripped back without pomp or flourish, and enacted and enlivened by one of our most gifted and proven character actors in a lean, finely-tuned adaptation.

It’s the perfect early Christmas present, and a wonderful opportunity to see one of the greats take on, well, one of the greats.

A bonafide classic of literature channelled through the filter of one of our most gifted players. A delightful, pared-back festive treat… Oh, but he was a charismatic narrator at the lectern, Bradley!


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