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Ade Edmondson as Scrooge at the RSC is the greatest of the great for the hardest of hard times





The delight of putting on A Christmas Carol for the third time, as director Rachel Kavanaugh tells Herald Arts in her interview in the Herald this week, is we get ‘a new actor in a different kind of Britain’.

Taking on the role at the RSC in 2017 we had Phil Davis, who gave great scowly face, the following year it was a leaner and more limber Aden Gillett.

But boy, how the times have a-changed since. We’ve suffered a plague, the economy has tanked, a ship of fools regularly sails through parliament, more people are living in absolute poverty, and the Manston migrant processing centre in Kent is not unlike a Victorian workhouse. Ho blooming ho.

Adrian Edmondson as Scrooge in the RSC's A Chritstmas Carol 2022. Photos: Manuel Harlan
Adrian Edmondson as Scrooge in the RSC's A Chritstmas Carol 2022. Photos: Manuel Harlan

Collins Dictionary has crowned a new word of the year that perfectly sums up the times: permacrisis. What player of Scrooge could possibly counter such mayhem? Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to bring out the big guns… The 2022 Scrooge is the utterly wonderful Adrian Edmondson, who plays the soon-to-be-redeemed curmudgeon with unforced wit and real depths of emotion.

It’s tricky to make a miser likeable and sympathetic, but the nuances of Scrooge’s character are perfectly captured by Edmondson. His ghost-led journey from abandoned boy – cast out by his father following the death of his mother during childbirth – to emotionally stunted adulthood alone in his counting house is beautifully done.

Adrian Edmondson as Scrooge in the RSC's A Chritstmas Carol 2022. Photos: Manuel Harlan
Adrian Edmondson as Scrooge in the RSC's A Chritstmas Carol 2022. Photos: Manuel Harlan

Fans of Edmondson’s comedy past won’t be disappointed either. Agog facial expressions, sly sideways glances, indignant harrumphs and befuddled dismay feed into his performance – all subtle reminders of his iconic character roles from yesteryear for which he is so adored: punk Vyvyan in The Young Ones and Eddie in Bottom – both with sparring partner the late and great Rik Mayall.

Of course there’s no Dickens dabbler finer than David Edgar. His adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby for the RSC was the stuff of legend, and his words and retelling of the story for this continues to resonate afresh five years on from its first outing.

Cratchit father and son
Cratchit father and son

The production opens with a bare and dark stage – not a twinkly twig in sight – and Dickens himself enters arguing with his editor and friend John Forster (Beruce Khan brings great energy to the role). Dickens wants to write a tract about child poverty, Foster implores him to write it as a ‘story that will echo down the ages’. The author acquiesces and… bosh! Snow falls and Stephen Brimson Lewis’ gloriously imposing Victorian street setting swings in – soot-dark brick walls, candlelit and imposing, and the crowds make merry, except for one humbugging businessman, Scrooge. From the get-go Edmondson commands the stage, a charming and mesmerising presence, it’s impossible to take your eyes off him.

Dickens’ narration of the action is a clever way of lending the story another dimension and in particular allows a renewed political edge. Gavin Fowler plays him with utter charm and passion and when he spouts grim statistics on child poverty it doesn’t feel clumsy or laboured, just heartbreakingly appropriate, and lends this Christmas tale proper clout.

RSC A Christmas Carol
RSC A Christmas Carol

Top performances also come from Sunetra Sarker as the jolly Scouse Ghost of Christmas Present; an ebullient Clive Hayward as Fezziwig; and Joseph Prowen as the impossibly upbeat nephew Fred.

Kavanaugh’s production is big and lavish, the party dance scenes and magic are especially heartwarming spectacles.

Sunetra Sarker as the jolly Scouse Ghost of Christmas Present
Sunetra Sarker as the jolly Scouse Ghost of Christmas Present

At one point this is juxtaposed with a scene where ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’, represented by ghostly child figures, are backed by a silhouetted chorus of abused workers shouting out some grim facts. It’s brilliant and haunting.

Despite the Cratchits being the emotional heart of the story, I found their depiction mawkish and less compelling. No matter, we got the message.

The amazing transforming sets, spectres and conjuring tricks and lavish costumes all serve to make this a suitably eyebogglingly feast for these ever more impoverished times.

But really it’s worth the ticket price to see 2022’s Scrooge alone.

Edmondson is the greatest of the great for the hardest of hard times.



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