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A Christmas Carol, Manchester Library Theatre Company, at The Lowry

Published by: Caroline May on 22nd Dec 2010 | View all blogs by Caroline May

Reviewed byRichard Howell-Jones

           Charles Dickens caught the spirit of Christmas so well with his original tale of the redemption of Scrooge that further interpretation is neither necessary nor desirable. Happily, then, the Manchester Library Theatre Company’s production of A Christmas Carol stays true to the letter as well as the intent of this, arguably Dickens’ most popular work.

          A strong and experienced cast portray the characters we know and love with every evidence of enjoyment, striking a chord with an audience composed almost entirely of school children - and on a Monday morning too! David Beames’ Scrooge glued the entire production together as the other actors, multiply cast, swirled through his life and showed him the error of his ways, led by Abigail McGibbon (Christmas Past), Kath Burlinson (Christmas Present) and a startling Christmas Yet To Come of whom Gary McCann (Designer) should be justly proud. Paul Barnhill’s Fred Scrooge, the old man’s nephew, drives his middle-class scenes with the same intensive Peace and Goodwill to All that Jack Lord provides as the poverty-stricken Bob Cratchit. Claude Close’s Jacob Marley is just plain scary, a fascinating contrast to his jolly generous Fezziwig. Geoff Steer (Choreographer) gave the ensemble plenty to do but managed to make it seem impromptu, matched by a set of appropriate carol-based songs from Conor Mitchell, culminating in a courageous, and at times impressive, piece based on Handel’s Unto Us a Child is Born.

          Of course, everyone knows that children make a tough house. As soon as the house-lights rose for the interval, several wanted to know why Scrooge had changed colour from brown to white as he got older. This was adroitly handled by one of the accompanying adults who suggested that he’d become paler as he spent more time indoors; whether or not this was the intention, it casts no shadow on Darren Kuppen, whose teenage Scrooge cleverly captured the point of his downfall, and who also entertained as the perhaps appropriately-named Tupper, Fred’s roving-eyed guest. Another query was how Marley’s hat had been so wicked as to deserve the great length of chain which festooned it, when Marley himself seemed quite lightly burdened by comparison. And, unfortunately, Tiny Tim, seeming healthier than Dickens intended and having the wrong sort of trouble with his limp, was held to be less than convincing.

          As far as the adults were concerned, there was only one criticism: that the production seemed curiously muted, as if reluctant to upset or disturb. Granted it’s intended for a family audience, but Scrooge’s character here hadn’t far to travel from miser to benefactor. The catch-phrase ‘Humbug!’ lacked conviction and his ill will towards Cratchit’s desire to take all Christmas day off might have resulted from a headache. This was really the flaw, for without clearly-seen malice there can be no great redemption – all one gets is a man in a good mood, having been in a bad one. This has the further effect of making Cratchit’s amazement at his employer’s change seem overdone, which is unjust.

          But these are pips in the Christmas orange, inconvenient but scarcely detracting from the enjoyment. From simple beginnings, the performance builds in intensity to a joyous and confidently complex finale, subtly led by Performance Musical Director, Isobel Waller-Bridge, leaving its audience with a worthy, perhaps timely, reminder of the true spirit of Christmas. Rachel O’Riordan directed.


A Christmas Carol byManchester Library Theatre Company is at The Lowry until 8 January 2011

Prices: £12.50 - £16.15

Box Office:0843 208 6010

Performance schedule & online booking: or




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