A Christmas Carol review – riotously silly show puts Scrooge in a spin

Liverpool Playhouse
Spymonkey riff with pop culture – from funk-anthem carols to Torvill and Dean – in a bizarre take on the Dickens classic

At this time of year, Scrooge is as reliable as mince pies and mistletoe – 175 years since Dickens published his ghost story, A Christmas Carol remains as ubiquitous as ever over the festive season, with new productions appearing in their droves. But you’re unlikely to see another version quite like Spymonkey’s.

Riffing on Dickens’ classic, the company can rely on their audience’s knowledge. We know this story. We’re anticipating each “bah, humbug!” and yuletide ghoul. And so Spymonkey can have some fun, gleefully inserting anachronisms – carollers singing Oops Upside Your Head; the Ghost of Christmas Future listening to a self-help podcast – and putting their own zany, dizzying spin on Scrooge’s journey to enlightenment.

It’s silly. Very silly. Dickens keeps reading from the wrong book. The Ghost of Christmas Past wants to be in a horror movie. Mr Fezziwig is played as a Cuban drug lord. Some skits point up moments of the ridiculous in Dickens’ narrative, while others – like a wonderfully bizarre sequence involving Torvill and Dean’s Bolero routine and a Henry vacuum cleaner (yes, really) – come straight from the wacky imaginations of the company.

Aitor Basauri in Spymonkey’s A Christmas Carol.
Aitor Basauri in Spymonkey’s A Christmas Carol. Photograph: Johan Persson

The real butt of the joke is theatre itself, with all its pretensions of illusion. Designer Alice Power has placed a stage within a stage within a stage – a receding series of flimsy proscenium arches and red velvet curtains. While the rickety set pieces sometimes feel a bit disingenuous on the grand stage of the Playhouse, there’s no question that Spymonkey are experts at playing amateur. In their hands, failure is an art form. The Sisyphean task of performing Dickens’ tale with a cast of just four becomes a running gag, as the quartet of performers wriggle frantically in and out of costumes and wigs. Getting the Cratchits’ brood of six around the table for Christmas dinner is a particularly riotous challenge.

There are odd moments that feel like hangovers from the rehearsal room, funnier for cast than for audience. But for festive cheer drenched in irreverence, with all the best bits of Dickens, panto and Christmas pop culture, you can’t do much better than this.


Catherine Love

The GuardianTramp

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