C-ratchiting up the spirit of Christmas

Cratchit is a bold new take on that enduring Christmas classic A Christmas Carol.

It will have a lot of appeal to the broad-minded, especially those jaded pallets who have eaten too many mince pies, writes Christopher Walker.

The original tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion from miser to benefactor was first published in Christmas week 1843, and had sold out by Christmas Eve.

It has never been out of print since, and there have been so many adaptations, everything from a ballet to the wonderful musical Scrooge, that you might think there is little to add in a new stage version.

Well, prepare yourself for a surprise. Cratchit, written and directed by Alexander Knott is totally different to anything you’ve seen.

Scrooge is relegated backstage, and his downtrodden clerk, Bob Cratchit, grabs the limelight.

He has his own three spirits on Christmas Eve.

This imaginative take was originally streamed to audiences during lockdown, but now, thanks to the foresight of talented producer Jack Maple, has found its way to the stage.

It is a cleverly written two-hander.

John Dagliesh, who played Bob Cratchit in the Old Vic’s production of Carol, gives a wonderful tour de force performance.

You can see why he won an Olivier for best actor.

He is never off stage, and as well as playing Cratchit, morphs into numerous characters from Scrooge, to one of the ghosts.

A lot is also asked of his fellow performer, newcomer, Freya Sharp, who not only plays multiple characters but both male and female roles, including Cratchit’s children Martha and Tiny Tim. At one point Tim also enjoys cross-dressing.

Starting on familiar ground, with direct extracts from the original novel, Alexander Knott takes Cratchit along a very different path.

We find Bob considering suicide, railing against his employer (rather than defending him as he does in the novel) and making a series of
political speeches.

The writing indeed has a strong social conscience.

Alexander Knott says, “Now more than ever, at the coldest time of year, it is vital to find the balance between the difficulties and hardship of winter that so many face, and the hope and promise that Christmas brings.”

As such, it is actually being truer to the original novel than you might think.

The 1840s were a time when Victorians were waking up to the horrors of contemporary working conditions.

Dickens personally knew poverty when his father’s bankruptcy led him to harsh employment in a rat-infested boot polish factory.

He then witnessed children working in terrible conditions when he toured the tin mines of Cornwall and on his visits to the appropriately named Ragged Schools, such as the one in Doughty Street Lambeth.

By 1843, he was determined to do something.

When the Report of the Children’s Employment Commission came out highlighting the extent of the crisis, he took to writing a political pamphlet.

Then, realising this would have limited appeal, he wrote a novel instead. A Christmas Carol was the result.

Dickens wrote to one of the report’s authors.

He said: “You will certainly feel that a Sledgehammer has come down with 20 times the force – 20,000 times the force – I could exert by following out my first idea.”

This production doesn’t quite have that political punch, but it does have some marvellous moments.

Bob Cratchit dancing with Tiny Tim in a Soho nightclub will stay with me for many Christmases to come.

The production crew achieve miracles in a small space with just two actors.

Emily Bestow’s designs are certainly inventive, and sound and lighting used to good effect.

For a very different Christmas Carol go to https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/cratchit


Pictured: John Dagliesh as Crachit

 


 

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