first night

A Christmas Carol

Naoise Murphy reviews a Dickens favourite as DUCT present the final show of this term.

It’s a lovely idea to stage a classic adaptation of that most festive of Christmas stories, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in the final week of Michaelmas Term. Durham University Classical Theatre and Director George Breare must be commended for choosing a play that can’t fail to lift the spirits as we plod towards final deadlines. Sadly, however, there were several issues with this production that prevented it from living up to its promise.

The play, adapted for the stage by Paul Sills, wasn’t without its merits. Clearly, there wasn’t a single bad actor among the cast. Each brought something exciting to the stage, from the spooky solemnity of the Ghost of Christmas Past (Josie Williams) to the joviality of Fezziwig (Bodhi Shribman-Dellman). Particular mention must go to Will Hanway’s boundlessly enthusiastic Fred, Emily Georgina’s fabulously no-nonsense Mrs Cratchit and Louise Webster’s absolutely adorable Tiny Tim. Joe Campbell handled the role of Scrooge with just the right mixture of misanthropy and eventual repentance, Ned Campbell’s Marley was appropriately gloomy and Andrew Cowburn effortlessly invoked our sympathy as the beleaguered clerk and family man Bob Cratchit.

But unfortunately there was a lack of cohesion in the staging which made it very difficult for the cast to work together as a collective. The script had a feeling of collaborative storytelling to it, with characters narrating the action as they moved around the stage. The Cratchit family Christmas scene was one example of how this approach worked really well. I felt that embracing this aspect of the play more fully, speaking directly out to the audience and ensuring that every word was used to its full potential, would have led to a much more engaging performance. Instead, many of the actors seemed to deliver their lines carelessly as they walked back and forth across the stage; in many instances they were actually facing the back, or delivering their lines straight into the wings as they walked off. Overall, the chorus scenes felt quite muddled and too many of the lines were inaudible. In theory this creative narration is a great idea. It’s just a pity it didn’t work in practice.

There were some nice decisions with regard to set and lighting. Images were projected onto the backdrop for most of the scenes and I would have liked to see this used consistently throughout, for the painted backdrop that was occasionally revealed behind it looked quite amateurish. There were some excellent lighting effects, but transitions were clunky. Costumes also left quite a bit to be desired, not really capturing the sumptuous Victorian feel one would expect from a Dickens adaptation.

It was still an enjoyable play, however, and a nice way to spend a cold winter’s evening. Hopefully some of these issues will be worked out for the rest of the run, allowing this promising cast to really shine. 

15 December 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
Our theatre that speaks for itself

DST is proud to be supported by: PwC