Review: A Christmas Carol, York Guildhall

23 Dec 2014 @ 12.44 pm
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christmas-carol-guildhall-2014-ghost
A ghost in the Guildhall: Al Barclay as Scrooge and Holt Roberts as Marley. Photograph: James Drury

A Christmas Carol, communal dining version by the Flanagan Collective

Guildhall, York

Until Jan 4 @ 7.30pm

£35

Theatre Royal website

I’ve been to several ‘immersive theatre’ shows over the years, and generally there’s some effort to involve the audience – but A Christmas Carol at the Guildhall is something entirely new.

On arrival we are instructed by an enthusiastic and cynical John Holt-Roberts as Marley that we are here to help everyone’s favourite anti-Christmas bachelor Mr Ebeneezer Scrooge – played by Al Barclay – find warmth and festive cheer in his heart.

The Guildhall doubles as Scrooge’s parlour. And our collective attempts to restore the old miser’s Christmas spirit take place over a two-course meal.

A Christmas Carol has the most important factor that all small productions need – chemistry and camaraderie.

Barclay’s oddly energetic and sometimes hysterical Scrooge versus Holt-Roberts’ stoic and audience-engaging Marley make the perfect team. Some of the show is improvised, picking up on the reactions of some of the other team members.

Not your typical Dickens interpretation, but often very funny – and I’m sure the great author would have approved.

For example – we play a game of “guess who”. Barclay must keep the guesser “safe” and rings the bell on his hat while singing ‘safety’ repetitively to help her, which leaves her in tears of laughter.

The structure of the production works perfectly. There are jarring changes of tone, like when we switch from a happy Christmas-dinner scene to Scrooge alone in the dark with just a candle – but this is one of the strongest aspects of the story and the group played this to maximum advantage.

Importantly for an immersive production I never felt singled out or embarrassed. The atmosphere was relaxed, the food enjoyable, the mulled wine (I promise this hasn’t swayed my opinion) a perfect accompaniment.

Writer Alexander Wright and Directer Tom Bellerby have put together a production that works very well within the space of a smaller section of the beautiful Guildhall. Through mainly changes of light the room is transformed into a cheery parlour, or a dark graveyard, or a space for Scrooge’s memories to be imprinted upon as Marley sings mournfully in the background.

Towards the end we are invited to see the full effects of our Christmas take and Barclay rollicks about in the wet and the darkness of St Helen’s Square in full nightgown and hat, and there is a song to finish.

It really does feel as though you’ve rediscovered your Christmas cheer.

I don’t know about you, but after a stressful day of present buying and fighting my way down crowded streets I can’t think of a more wonderful way to end the day than a Christmas dinner among some nice folk and some great entertainment.

After all, there is nothing so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.