Performance review: A Christmas Carol, Comedy Theatre

'A Christmas Carol' returns after a triumphant run last year, this time with Owen Teale as Scrooge.
A Christmas Carol. Image is a darkened stage with an ensemble of Dickensian actors holding lanterns and Scrooge in a reddish dressing gown looking out through a door frame.

With wars raging in Europe and the Middle East and a cost of living crisis hitting hard, the return of the Old Vic production of the holiday favourite A Christmas Carol couldn’t come at a better time. This exquisite production gives audiences the chance to escape to a Dickensian winter wonderland for a few hours and believe in the kindness of humanity again – at least for a little while.

Since I last reviewed the play in 2022 there have been several changes to the cast, including the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge, previously played by David Wenham. Now the lantern has been passed to Game of Thrones star Owen Teale, who has played the part in London and brings a grizzled gravitas to his portrayal. Teale has a booming voice and he expertly emphasises the nastiness in Scrooge during the first act, making his transformation in the second really hit home. This is a masterful performance from an accomplished actor.

Other new faces among the cast include a luminous Aisha Aidara as Scrooge’s sister Little Fan and Grant Piro as a charmingly joyful Fezziwig. On opening night the role of Tiny Tim was played by young Mira Feldman with confidence and charm. The ensemble in this production are all fabulous performers, with many playing multiple roles and some even doubling as musicians.

Playwright Jack Thorne’s adaptation moves very swiftly and requires a lot from these multidisciplinary artists, and each cast member more than rises to the occasion. There is a camaraderie and a great sense of warmth that floats from the stage and sprinkles the audience, much like the snowflakes that fall throughout the show. This intimacy is hard to manufacture and, just like last year’s cast, this 2023 troupe are integral to making A Christmas Carol such a moving success. 

Returning to this production I was struck by just how brilliantly efficient Thorne’s storytelling is and by the elegant ingenuity of Matthew Warchus’ staging. The poetry of Charles Dickens’ text is emphasised throughout by using the ensemble as a sort of Greek chorus, highlighting particular words and creating an immersive world through language. There’s an exciting sense of mystery and magic throughout and, while the special effects in the production are in many ways simple, the impeccable timing with which they are deployed ensures they always leave you surprised and delighted.

The gorgeous incidental music by Christopher Nightingale, played by a live band, helps create mood and atmosphere, and the selections of Christmas carols performed throughout bring out the themes of the piece. A Christmas Carol is like a gorgeous pocket watch: a well-crafted and deftly calibrated piece of theatrical machinery.   

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This play is quickly becoming one of my favourites. A Christmas Carol gives you all the darkness and enchantment you want from the classic tale, but the thing that surprises you the most is the massive emotional response it elicits. This production is a tonic for our troubled times; it’s about changing your perspective, learning compassion and realising just how scary that can be. I hope that this production continues to return year after year; it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

A Christmas Carol
A version by Jack Thorne

Comedy Theatre
Conceived and Directed: Matthew Warchus
Set and Costume: Rob Howell
Composer and Arranger: Christopher Nightingale
Lighting: Hugh Vanstone
Sound: Simon Baker
Movement: Lizzie Gee
Hair, Wigs and Make Up: Campbell Young Associates
Associate Director: Jamie Manton
Musical Supervisor: Laurie Perkins
Musical Director: Peter Rutherford
Resident Director: David Spencer
Associate Lighting Designer: Hugh Hamilton
Associate Sound Designer: David Greasley
Wardrobe Supervisor: Sharon Williams
Casting Director: Natalie Gilhome
Assistant Musical Director: Daniel Griffin
Resident Choreographer: Jan Di Pietro

Cast: Owen Teale, Aisha Aidara, Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward, Kaya Byrne, Benjamin Colley, Andrew Coshan, Bernard Curry, Anthony Harkin, Deidre Khoo, Stephanie Lambourn, Debra Lawrance, Samantha Morley, Sarah Morrison, Grant Piro, Jack Van Staveren, Jasmine Vaughns, Alexis Abela, Mira Feldman, Evie Rose Hennessy, Libby Segal

A Christmas Carol will be performed until 7 January 2024.

Reuben Liversidge is based in Melbourne. He has trained in music theatre at the VCA, film and theatre at LaTrobe University, and currently works as Head Talent Agent for the Talent Company of Australia.