In usual times I am fortunate enough to get to visit the theatre on an almost weekly basis, so this year has been a very different, and certainly much less culturally rich state of affairs, sadly. However, on a positive note, I have been lucky enough to bookend the theatrical drought of 2020 with two visits to The Theatre, Chipping Norton. In the halcyon days of February I saw a performance of Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, a wonderfully funny farce full of belly laughs.On Saturday I returned to the Theatre to see A Christmas Carol, certainly not a farce, but with a smattering of chuckles scattered throughout.
This version of the Dickens classic is an adaptation of aficionado Simon Callow who admits that “adapting the novel for stage or screen is a tricky business” due to the inevitability that the author’s voice gets lost in the melee of colourful characters. Callow was certainly up to the challenge, his account of Scrooge’s tale capturing Dickens’ narrative voice effortlessly, while also allowing the Narrator freedom to perform.
Which brings me to our Narrator for the evening. David Bradley. Known (to me at least) for his brilliant portrayal of Argus Filch in the Harry Potter film series and that guy with the sea mine in Hot Fuzz. Obviously, he is a much more prolific actor than my meagre references give him credit for; BAFTA Award-winning, no less. And what a performer he is. As Lighting Designer Rory Beaton states in the programme – “It’s no small feat to hold an audience for 85 minutes”, but Bradley’s presence is absolutely entrancing. He brings the story to life with seeming ease, switching effortlessly between characters and narrator. On stage alongside him (socially distanced, of course) is the fabulously talented Sophie Crawford, providing beautiful vocals as well as playing the accordion, ukulele and a host of bell/chain sound effects throughout.While the focus may be on Bradley, Crawford’s accompaniment brings another level to the show, heightening the dramatic aspect of the ghostly tale.
The staging appears to be as miserly as Mr Scrooge himself, perhaps deliberately reflecting the character’s stingy nature. But with the subtle lighting changes pitched perfectly by aforementioned Beaton, everything comes together to provide a theatrical treat that left me feeling warm and cosy as I exited the theatre into the chilly night. An absolute joy to behold in these difficult and strange times.