Review: A Christmas Carol at Ilkley Playhouse

WHAT would Christmas be without a carol? What would the festive season be without a foray into the works of Dickens and references to Victoriana? Opening at Ilkley Playhouse this week is a production of A Christmas Carol: spirits, songs, snow and spookiness abound.

The play opens with a glimpse of that most pathetic figure of Tiny Tim, limping towards the light only to be showered with icy snow. The set is wonderful: muted tones of green and purple adorn the Victorian street scene with warm glowing windows hinting of a greater warmth inside. Lantern bearing carollers set the scene as their cheerful presence contrasts so starkly with the chill inside the offices of Scrooge and Marley.

And so the story unfolds. Scrooge is played by Damien O’Keeffe who brings a compelling and sinister meanness to the role. We see him brush off the well- meaning charity collectors completely without compassion, encouraging them to send the poor to the treadmill rather than offer them comfort. The same response is received by his ebullient nephew Fred, played with energy and attack by Jonathan Kennedy. As Scrooge sits beside the tiny glowing embers in his bedroom hearth, the haunting of him seems entirely justified. Meeting first the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley played by a strongly Scottish Colin Waterman, Scrooge’s night of terror and enlightenment begins.

Lisa Debney’s ethereal and frightening Ghost of Christmas Past is remote and eerie, her distance from Scrooge echoing the distance he has travelled from the dreams and aspirations of his youth. Taken to visit his former self, content with first the company of his beloved sister and then torn from the side of his disappointed fiancée, Scrooge’s life is laid out in front of him.

Bursting onto the scene with an illuminated crown and rich green robes is Alan Young’s Ghost of Christmas Present. With him the woeful Ebenezer travels to the humble home of Bob Cratchit and his family, who do a sterling job of making merry with a paltry goose and miniscule pudding. Patrick Hebbert, as Cratchit is every inch the optimist and loving husband and father. It is when Scrooge visits their home again with the Ghost of Christmases to Come, that the heart strings are really tugged as we see Cratchit’s grief as the loss of his dear son. And of course, this is the real turning point for Scrooge and redemption is on its way. The delightful tiny children, who skip bare-foot across the icy streets, would surely melt the hardest of hearts.

This much loved story is brought to life with music, song, spirited dancing and great story telling from an array of narrators. Mervyn Button’s sensitive and affectionate direction ensures that this production will help start Christmas celebrations in a truly delightful style. It runs at the Playhouse until December 15.

by Becky Carter