An Edinburgh Christmas Carol

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Four stars

Ebeneezer Scrooge is the perfect embodiment of Edinburgh at its worst. This is something Tony Cownie’s new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ perennial festive yarn ramps up to the max, with an Old Town-dwelling Scrooge revealed as mean-spirited, fun-hating, exploitative and loveless. With the shadow of Edinburgh Castle above him on Neil Murray’s expansive gothic set, Cownie’s Scrooge is a living hybrid of auld Reekie NIMBY and money-grabbing shark trading on people’s misery, with the contradictions of both tearing him apart.

As Crawford Logan’s Victorian miser is forced to confront his own demons, he is emotionally bunged up with enough guilt-laden neuroses to give him nightmares, if he can sleep at all. Christmas is a funny thing, however, and even as Grant O’Rourke’s comedy copper makes sure the carol singing street choir are forced to hold their wheesht in a way any inner city busker will recognise, the forces of good conspire for Scrooge to see the error of his ways and atone himself aplenty.

Key to this is the enforced rummage through Scrooge’s back pages and a peek into the Cowgate slum where Ewan Donald’s downtrodden clerk Rab Cratchit tends to his brood. One of these is Tiny Tim, who, like his four-legged friend, Greyfriars Bobby, is brought to life by way of Simon Auton’s evocative puppets, overseen by Edie Edmundson. Bobby’s presence, meanwhile, necessitates a vigilante dog-catcher to clear the streets.

Cownie’s reinvention stands up remarkably well in his own production, which is infused with a warmth that bolsters the wilfully arcane language used to heighten proceedings so interactions at times resemble music hall turns. The effect is of a living pop-up book with a philanthropic bent, with the party guests of Taqi Nazeer’s Fred an array of comic strip grotesques. There is a fun too from Steven McNicoll’s Santa Claus-like ghost of Christmas present. If shopping local is important, Cownie suggests, there are other, less savoury things on your doorstep that those as privileged as Scrooge need to wake up to.