A Christmas Carol

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Five stars

Don't be fooled by the pasty-faced jug-band who strike up a jaunty version of Silent Night as a curtain-raiser to Dominic Hill's seasonal look at Charles' Dickens' festive classic. Aside from an audience sing-along to The Twelve Days of Christmas and Ebeneezer Scrooge's closing conversion, that's pretty much as cheery as things get.

Such over-riding solemnity is by no means to the show's detriment, however, as Hill and his creative team take full advantage of Neil Bartlett's marvellously pared-down script. Fused throughout with an epigrammatic musicality that allows for much playfulness, it allows an inherent theatricality to burst onto the stage with an ensemble cast of eight led by a pop-eyed Cliff Burnett as the old miser himself.

From the off, even the quill-scratching labours of Scrooge's employees are choreographed to perfection by movement directors Benedicte Seierup and Lucien MacDougall before things veer into more metaphysical waters.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a disturbing looking puppet of a child with a lamp for a face; restless spirits swirl around the auditorium's upper echelons like manic kites in motion; and a first glimpse at the Ghost of Things To Come's looming presence at the end of the first act is a truly scary portent of the future.

This grotesque display of gothic victoriana is forebodingly pulsed by Nikola Kodjabashia's percussion-heavy live score, while Rachael Canning's black as night design work is given extra edge by her accompanying puppet work. Hill has his cast navigate their way through Bartlett's superior script with occasional flashes of levity that serve to heighten the intensity of what is probably the darkest feelgood show in town.