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Theatre Review: A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story

4 November 21 words: Jared Wilson
photos: Manuel Harlan

After a year of covid-related delays Mark Gatiss' adaptation of Charles Dickens' seasonal classic is finally here...

Over the last few years Mark Gatiss has become something of a regular visitor to Nottingham. The star of UK stage and screen has a strong working relationship with Adam Penford (Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse and the director of this play), which is fortuitous for local theatre lovers as it means we’re getting to one of UK theatre's brightest talents on something of a regular basis.

This play follows on from 2018’s Madness of King George III (in which he played the lead role) and 2020’s Ghost Stories, which was part of the Unlocked Festival. It’s a version of the seasonal Dickens classic adapted by Gatiss and has much of the black humour and eerie hallmarks shown in his previous work, right back to the League of Gentleman days.

However this time Gatiss only plays support on stage, in the role of Jacob Marley. The lead role of Ebeneezer Scrooge is turned over to Nicholas Farrell, who’s hundreds of TV and film roles include The Iron Lady (2011), Legend (2015), The Crown (2020) and Chariots of Fire (1981).  A veteran of stage and screen, Farrell is excellent in the role and has one of those faces you can't help but recognise and love. He starts off quite serious, but by the end his performance is full of humour, almost verging on parody.

The rest of the cast are excellently chosen too. Jo Eaton-Kent and Joe Shire give strong performances as the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present and Edward Harrison makes a fine Bob Cratchit. A fine ensemble performance all round. 

Gatiss has previously conducted major rewrites of Conan Doyle (Sherlock) and Bram Stoker (Dracula) but it’s fair to day that this rewrite of Dickens sticks fairly close to the original script. Instead much of the edge-of-seat excitement in this play is provided by strong lighting (designed by Philip Gladwell) and piercing and screeching sound. Overall it’s a highly enjoyable evening of entertainment, although if the idea of loud bangs makes you nervous then you might want a stiff drink beforehand. 

If it seems a bit premature to be showing a seasonal play like this, there are two things to remember. Firstly it’s been delayed since this time last year (thanks covid). Secondly after it’s stint in Nottingham it moves onto a Nov-Jan slot at London’s Alexandra Palace theatre. It’s great to see such a major establishment in the nation’s capital taking on plays from a Nottingham-based theatre company for the Christmas season. Just remember that you saw it here in Nottingham first.

A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story is showing at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 20 November.

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