Why go to London for Christmas theatre when you can go to Southwick? No kidding! You might think local drama is am-dram sprinkled with polite applause and a chance to see your daughter, son or mates on stage. Right? Wrong! Very wrong.
The Wick Theatre Company, which performed this adaption of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol at the Barn Theatre, combined high-class acting, subtle choreography and minimum props backed up by precision mood lighting and sounds. It also brought this short story, first published in 1843, right into contemporary debates about poverty, health and class conflict.
As ace theatre reviewer Strat Mastoris helpfully pointed out to me during the interval, this dramatisation of the story draws on David Edgar’s 2017 edgy political interpretation of the narrative.
Over the years people have had a poke at Dickens’ work for its sentimentality. That is certainly true in places. On the other hand, here is a writer who – 180 years ago – was exploring the injustices of poverty, poor housing, food shortages, and child labour in the workplace. As an activist, he contributed time and money to social causes and reforms yet declined to take a seat in parliament. He carried on writing until his death in 1870.
The story of A Christmas Carol, which reveals the poverty facing a family at Christmas and throughout the year, remains as relevant today as in the 1840s. It’s all bang on message.
As for Christmas, our Scrooge trots out his catchphrase: “bah humbug”. “Thank God they’re not thinking of widening the franchise” and “Don’t give beggars money they will only spend it on drink.” He knows which side he’s on.
Yet, the three ghosts that now visit our evil Scrooge (Christmas past, present and future) convincingly take us from social realism into a transcendental realm. By this stage our anti-hero is definitely spooked. “Lead on, lead on, the night is waning fast!” He’s not talking about “bah humbug” by the end. The redemption of Scrooge into a nice guy, takes us into that (near) happy-ever-after world of sentimentality.
At this stage, a not yet born Brecht might be cheekily hoisting a ‘happy ending’ sign for the audience. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that Dickens’ fantastical Christmas tale still grips us. And it’s not hard to imagine plenty of unredeemed Scrooges standing in the next election.
This was Nettie Sheridan’s triumphant directorial debut for the company, accompanied by Charlotte Atkinson, and with Liz Ryder Waldon as musical director. It must have been a feat to keep track of 25 adult actors and 12 young people in the cast throughout the performance. Meanwhile, the set design, lighting, and musical direction teams set themselves the highest standards in complementing the mood and action on stage.
As always, The Barn Theatre is a welcoming and friendly venue with a decent bar. Despite a train strike and bitter winds blowing off the harbour this was another full house for the Wick Theatre Company. Get there for the next show!
The Barn Theatre, Southwick, Wed 14th – Sat 17th December 2022
Photos by Miles Davies Photography