A Christmas Carol

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Neil Cooper

Five stars

The ragtime parade of street-smart buskers who burst through the doors and freestyle into the auditorium set the tone of things to come in Isobel McArthur’s new adaption of Charles Dickens’ much reinvented Christmas classic. While the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh’s production moves the action to its own doorstep, McArthur and director Ben Occhipinti have opted for something infinitely more modern, even as they retain the story’s period setting. This sees the action framed by the storytelling band, who step in and out of assorted characters inbetween giving Christmas carols a jazzy reboot.

Colin McCredie’s Scrooge is younger than how he is traditionally seen, played here by McCredie as a dodgy money-lender who has no truck with charity chuggers, and certainly not with his puppy-dog keen nephew, Fred, played by Samuel Pashby in reindeer ears and a Christmas jumper. Once the shop doors are shut, Scrooge cuts a lonely figure, with the flickering boulevard of street-lights that hang above him giving him the air of a Citizen Kane type figure, painfully desolate in the vast chasm of his self-made success.

Anna Orton’s set and Rob Hiley’s musical direction are the keys to the noirish mood. A rendition of In the Bleak Midwinter resembles a Bernard Herrmann soundtrack in tone. Kafkaesque ledgers zigzag from the ceiling of Scrooge’s shop. Their black and white sense of order is in stark contrast to the multi-coloured swirls that decorate Fezziwig’s works do, hosted by a ghetto-blaster wielding Emilie Patry as the bumbling boss.

What emerges from all this is something that is startlingly contemporary, but which retains the essence of its source, both in terms of its entertaining ribaldry and its more serious social critique. Scrooge’s damascene conversion as he is given a fly-on-the-wall introduction to everyday poverty and the damage it can cause to families is an at times moving insight into how money can sometimes talk in better ways than it does most of the time.