Skip to main content

Review of A Christmas Carol by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Isham Dark (Avenue Campus), Northampton

I can't quite remember how many versions of Charles Dickens' classic tale I have seen (maybe too many), but this dynamic, and at times, very different, version, was the second that I had seen in seven days following a Masque Theatre version the previous week. They couldn't have been more different in places, despite rigidly following the original story very well.

This production started with an uncharacteristic mingling of the cast with the audience, including a collection of non-period tunes playing (there goes #Whamaggeddon!). It has a mixture of weird and relaxed to it, and the assembled school kids certainly relished it and the mince pies, candy canes and chocolate coins that were being handed out.

As the cast disappeared at their due time, the scene is set for our narrator, Lyric Impraim, complete with dust riddled book to open the tale. She's a great performer, full of enthusiasm for the tale being told, and has a most brilliant cameo later as the turkey fetcher as the end of the story. She really manages to capture the opening of the show though, filling us with intrigue.

However, what of the main man though, a role we must, of course, deal with head on, and a role that many an actor perhaps dreams of getting the chance at. Chris Cutler plays Scrooge with great strength in some areas but feels limited in others. This being that it's tough to dislike him. Cutler's attempts at being nasty in his remonstrations at the poor put-upon Bob Cratchitt (a brilliant, nicely judged performance by Harry Oliver) never quite feel strong enough. Even without knowing him, Cutler seems a likeable chap, and that at times makes him difficult to believe as evil Scrooge on stage. Maybe it's the pre-show encounter that doesn't help when he appears with the audience genuinely warm. This said though, Scrooge's journey of discovery is superbly dealt with by Cutler, showing a jovial nature, and perhaps even later, what looks like being a strong comedic ability. A fine performance, just not quite perfectly cast maybe.

Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present are sparkily realised by Sarah Awojobi and Bethan Medi respectively. Awojobi has a natural command, demanding Scrooge hear her and effortlessly takes control of the situation. While Medi brings a different style, more relaxed and guiding. They nicely play against one another very differently and bring the journey of redemption powerfully to the stage.

One of the stronger scenes of the play, is one you least suspect to be, mainly because of a hugely strong performance, that of Old Joe, played by Esther Bartholomew, it becomes an absolute riot of comedy and defines a curious good and part of this whole show. Comedy is where it at times fails, with some of it not quite gelling and occasionally forced. I did appreciate that painfully awkward scene of silence, but, it did, in the end, go on too long for instance. There are more than a few scenes within this version that fail in their attempts at humour.

Then we have the elephant in the room for me, Ebeneezer and the Scrooges. Opening act two is a live gig where Cutler, still as Scrooge gives us a couple of numbers with his band. I love both tunes they performed, Carol of the Bells and Fairytale of New York, and while it was excellent music, it simply didn't work for me. This coupled with seeing Scrooge set it all up during the interval, totally broke the character created in act one. Despite my reservations though, I am sure many loved it.

What I did like though from the music were those perfectly in character with the show. The quality of singing in this production was tremendous and the mixture of carols brought both joy and poignancy to the whole production.

Returning to the performances sees finally mention of two immensely strong ones, Jacob Marley is a commanding presence due to a stunning performance from Michael Gukas. He depicts Marley's despair with true emotion, and clarity of delivery is second to none. Meanwhile, while despair is Gukas' strength, every time Amy Jane Baker appears on the stage, it's lit with a captivating turn of enthusiasm. Both in narrator scenes, but more so as the larger than any life Mrs Fezziwig. Both quite brilliant performances and I am already looking forward to what they bring to the stage next.

I liked most of A Christmas Carol, and the only bits I didn't like were what I felt were misjudged, rather than poorly performed. It's always nice to see the endlessly told tale told differently, and that without a doubt is what this production did. As always, it is better to fail trying something different, than fail by doing the same old thing.

Performance viewed: Thursday13 December 2018 (matinee) at Isham Dark, University of Northampton (Avenue Campus), Northampton
Twitter feed for the University actors is @UoN_BaActors



Popular posts from this blog

Review of Blue/Orange at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The challenging and socially relevant Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall was published in 2000 and back then, this caustic exploration of mental health, and more specifically black mental health issues, was a tremendously relevant play. When it debuted on stage in London, the cast of just three was played by Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Director James Dacre doesn't have those names to play with so much in his cast, however here, he has worked with the writer himself to rework the play for a more modern audience. Does it still shock, and is the relevance still there today? Sadly, perhaps, the answer is yes, as doctors Bruce Flaherty and Robert Smith come to verbal blows over the health of patient Christopher, at times, you feel 21 years shed little light on how mental health is approached. Many references in the script, still sit unquestionably in the year 2000, however, with this reworking, one thing has changed dramatically. In the original version of the play, the two

Review of Shrek (NMTC) at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Three and a half years ago, in a land far far away, in a world very different to the one we are now in, I saw the touring professional production of Shrek The Musical , it was a mixed bag of quality, tilted extremely heavily in favour of one particular character (not the one you might expect) and not firing on all cylinders much of the time. One and a half years after my last visit to the Derngate theatre, I return to see the homegrown Northampton Musical Theatre Company's own take on the very same show. Would they be able to breathe more life into the show than the professionals did in that distant land? It is a bit of a yes and no really. Pretty much all of this is done to the best possible standard, and at times, with being an amateur show you could easily forget, they all have normal day jobs. The show oozes professional quality at times. The set looks magnificent, the costumes (from Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium) are superb, and as ever with NMTC, the backstage team c

Review of Hacktivists by Ben Ockrent performed by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

The National Theatres Connections series of plays had been one of my highlights of my trips to R&D during 2014. Their short and snappy single act style kept them all interesting and never overstaying their welcome. So I was more than ready for my first encounter with one of this years Connections plays ahead of the main week of performances at R&D later in the year. Hacktivists is written by Ben Ockrent, whose slightly wacky but socially relevant play Breeders I had seen at St James Theatre last year. Hacktivists is less surreal, but does have a fair selection of what some people would call odd. Myself of the other hand would very much be home with them. So we are presented with thirteen nerdy "friends" who meet to hack, very much in what is termed the white hat variety. This being for good, as we join them they appear to have done very little more than hacked and created some LED light device. Crashing in to spoil the party however comes Beth (Emma-Ann Cranston)