A Christmas Carol
Everyman Palace, Cork
First presented as long as 12 years ago, this Clive Francis adaptation of the famous Christmas story by Charles Dickens arrives on its Irish tour with Granite Productions as fresh, ingenious and enthralling as if it had only this minute sprung to life.
In this one-man show, Francis’s ability to suggest spontaneity in an intricate narrative is some indication of this performer’s skill. Without pandering to the novella’s sentimentality, he locks down its dark essential message of social inequality. Francis might have made more antic hay of the comic – and it has to be admitted that Dickens gave all the best lines to the villain – and he might have been tempted to emphasise the thrill of gloom and graveyards.
But to do either would have loosened the fibre of a tale that, for all its Victorian exaggeration, remains a tightly pointed indictment of its times.
What one hopes is a well-known plot revolves around the haunting of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge by three phantoms representing the past, the present and the future, nightmare visitations that convert him to an almost hysterical Christmas-tide fervour of reform.
These are crowded scenes, yet from the moment he appears between the looped curtaining, Francis has the theatre in his grasp. There are few props but from the walking stick aimed to accentuate a word or an episode, to the scarlet comforter he finally drapes about his neck like a blazon, they are used coherently and in a subtle rhythm with the lighting design.
The music and sound from Philip Sheppard seems more spasmodic than atmospheric, but in fact the atmosphere depends on Francis himself. The structure of his adaptation relies significantly on the authority of his own narrative voice.
In this production, Francis flings bridges across streams of sequences where Dickens indulged himself but which are not crucial to the impact of this re-created but still reverberating seasonal fantasy.