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Friday 05 December 2008

Brighton Theatre Collective Serve Up A Real Slice Of Christmas @ Old Ship Hotel

Do you have a Jacob Marley? Is there anyone, waiting, sitting silently and invisibly next to you, day after day, listening, observing, waiting for the time to confront you with all that you have done, or not done, in this life? Could you handle it if they did?
A Christmas Carol Runs Until 10th January

Perhaps we need Marley, and his succession of ghosts, to visit us as a society and show us what we have done, what we are doing and what we will do as a terrible consequence of these wasted times of war and greed.

Or perhaps, like I suspect Scrooge did, deep down we know that terrible truth already.

When the ghost of Christmas Present (in response to Scrooges indifference to the plight of the poor, claiming them to be too populous) says: 'Oh god, to hear the insect on the leaf pronounce on the too much life of his hungry brothers in the dust' it is the finest indictment of greed and the indifference of the rich to the poor in the English language.

It sums up our responses to Africa, to the Middle East and to people from the next street who do not "quite' live up to our expectations.

It is our doom.

Scrooge is essentially a creature of money.

And though he hoards his own money, while our society sets out to spend everyone else's, the turn of the wheel of finance (to which we are now lashed, thinking ourselves sailors in a storm when we are, in fact, the oxen who pull and turn the stones to grind the corn for the rich just like ever) puts us all in the exact same place.

In the story of a Christmas Carol, Scrooge arrives home on Christmas Eve to see his doorknocker loom up as the face of his dead partner, Marley, as we arrive home in time for the news and to watch the starving, huddled in groups around tents clutching everything they own, staring back out at us with unseeing eyes.

Marley's face is replaced for us by the face of the starving child, the one with his eyes wide and staring, his ribs showing, flies crawl as if unobserved across his face, his arms like little sticks by his sides.

But we do nothing, and if we do anything it is usually not enough; we just go shopping to buy more crap and then move house to find more storage to put it all in.

And this is why "A Christmas Carol' is a parable for our times, perhaps more than any other.

And this is why the decision to put it on this Christmas by the Brighton Theatre Collective (BTC) at the Old Ship Hotel, Brighton, is to be applauded for its timing as much as anything else.

Their Scrooge is a weak, quietly spoken miser who has lost his way and, as he searches for his room in the black night with the tiny stub of a candle quivering in his hand, we have a physical metaphor for his ailment; he has lost way in darkness and needs enlightenment.

For this is a story about human redemption and not simply about a greedy man.

BTC know this and under the fine wing of director Alan Perrin (who also adapted the story for this staged production) they have managed to exceed all expectations.

In essence it is a fine piece of work that develops the themes of humanity and the possibilities for human forgiveness and redemption.

Indeed it is never better than when it make observers of us, looking on at a group scene, a party or a meal.

The honesty and integrity of these scenes reminded me very much of the wonderful wedding scene in the first half of the film "The Deer Hunter", as it seemed so genuine, full of integrity, and so much the product of a director and writer who could truly see, and not just look at, the lived experience.

It is the aim of BTC to linger not on the "flick of an ankle here and there' (so an insider tells me) but to concentrate on the flow of the story, and again here they succeed.

They achieve choreography of movement in the way that the story is permitted to unfold before our eyes, but without any sense of self awareness or pretentiousness.

One thinks here of Kerouac's famous scroll version of On the Road, had it been edited by, say, George Orwell.

Smooth flowing, full of artistry and joy, yet never threatening to burst its banks - the action is relentless and yet utterly engaging.

Not during the whole hour did I find my attention wavering, not even once.

If one wanted to be picky, the decision to swap Scrooge's nephew for a niece seemed a rather odd choice, full of pitfalls and not really adding anything to the play, except for the talents of Samantha Bolter.

When Scrooge sneeringly tells his nephew that he speaks well enough to enter parliament, he has a point, but when he tells his niece to (as he does in this adaptation) it would have been impossible, certainly in 1843. But that's being picky.

The cast were all very good, but I have to single out Sascha Harman, whose performance as Scrooges fiancé was spellbinding.

Overall though, it was the harmony of the cast and set (working in the round which I loved) and the way they worked and pulled together that gave this show its edge.

The cosy low ceilings of the Tudor Room, where the show is being performed, add to the sense of Victorian gloom as the mist rises on a dark December night.

This show is proof of what can be achieved on a low budget but with a huge effort.

Using a refreshing lack of special effects and an amazing amount of talent and hard work the BTC have probably produced the best Christmas production that you will see in Brighton this year.

Engaging, funny and above all human, I found myself lost in world of shadows one minute and warm-faced by the warm hearth of humanity the next.

I loved this production and so will you; ditch the soaps and the shops and get down to the Tudor Rooms at the Old Ship Hotel and get a real slice of Christmas instead of hanging around Churchill Square buying crap for other people who don't really want it.


A Christmas Carol by the Brighton Theatre Collective runs until Saturday 10th January.

Tickets, priced, £7, available from the Dome Box Office on 01273 709709 - And if you feel as enlightened as Scrooge afterwards, then charities like Oxfam, Shelter, or Save the Children are always in need of funds at this time of year.


by: Howard Young (Theatre Editor)




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