What can be said with surety is that Rocket Theatre Company’s production of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol is anything but a classic revival of the much-loved tale. For the location of the play, Rocket Theatre decided upon Saltwell Hall in Stephenson College. After making the trek up that infamous hill – which I hadn’t made since first year – a cup of mulled wine upon arrival was welcome. With the audience about half full, there was a bit an atmosphere building as the play opened with a well-known scene involving Scrooge and Cratchett. It is shortly after the opening that the audience realise that Fraser Louge’s rendition of A Christmas Carol will not conform with conventional understandings of the story.
Credit must be attributed to Louge for his ambition: he has taken it upon himself not only to direct, but to re-write A Christmas Carol, with the aim of highlighting aspects of the story he feels are largely overlooked by today’s audiences. His success, however, is variable. Whilst the main characters and essence of Dickens’ plot is evident throughout, the nuanced critiques of the original which Louge has attempted to make – outlined in his Writers Note: A Christmas Carol in the Drama section – are largely lost due to inconsistent performances onstage.
The central role – the old, sour Ebenezer Scrooge – is taken on by Tilly Owen. Owen has clearly put effort into the role and appears to be confident in her direction, but further characterisation and conviction on her part are needed to make her portrayal more convincing. Owen is supported in her lead by Laura Wilson, Megan Deans and Patrick O’Connell, who play the doctor, nurse and reverend respectively. These roles are supposed to be parallels to Dickens’ ghosts of past, present, and future, although this is not always clear. It is in Sian Gibbons, who plays Martha Cratchett, that persuasive characterisation can be found. Despite having little stage time, Gibbons revives the play with her stage presence and belief in her character. It is a shame that such energy could not be identified in the rest of the cast, as this would certainly have enhanced the overall impression of the piece.
Choosing the much-loved A Christmas Carol for one of their first productions in itself reflects the admirable ambition of Rocket Theatre Company. Taking on a large name like Dickens was always going to be a significant challenge, even without Louge’s personal spin on the plot. Unfortunately, on this occasion the vision of the cast and crew did not manifest itself onstage and instead their rendition came across as unpolished. I am definitely keen to see how they build upon this in the future, and hope that Rocket Theatre continue to set their sights high.
By Hazel Laurenson