Richard Evans

Review A Christmas Carol – Theatr Clwyd, Wednesday December 18th 2019 by Richard Evans

A Christmas Carol, a real cracker or just plain humbug?

Would this presentation stay true to Dickens’ novella?  Would it be accessible to children or would they be rather sucking on a bag of humbugs by the end?  These two questions were answered in a resoundingly positive way as the cast and crew at Theatr Clwyd rose to the challenge with aplomb.  

This was a thoroughly enjoyable interactive performance that communicated much of what Dickens intended yet had a lightness of touch, an impish humour and a sense of occasion that made it well suited to a Christmas show.  The script, an adaptation by Alan Harris incorporated plenty of Dickensian language and picked up many of the paradigms that pervade this well known story.  These included the heartless materialism that Victorian London exhibited alongside the powerless struggle against deprivation experienced by the poor.  

The cast was a mixture of professional and community actors and while all the professionals stood out, there was no perceivable divide between the two elements and they communicated a real sense of enjoyment plus feelings of teamwork and unity.  This places the production firmly in the footsteps of community and promenade productions such as the Great Gatsby and Mold Riots.  It has been great to see such creativity and ambition coming from the Theatr and it is exciting to see so many local people so eager to take part in this type of production.  

The play used two adjacent settings in the theatre, one space transformed into a street market where the audience mingled freely with the cast.  Audience members were given a token to exchange for a sample of local produce and this set the tone for the interactive nature of this production.  Being so close to the action immerses you into the experience and builds empathy for the characters.  However it was hard to imagine it was a cold December day when the place was so hot!

The second space staged the visitations of the three Christmas ghosts to Ebenezer Scrooge, played excellently by Steven Elliot.  The transformation of Scrooge from a money grabbing miser who showed little sympathy for the human condition to one shocked into generosity of spirit was plain to see.  In another subtle layer, the play explored the reasons why Scrooge was so miserly.  Had he not been neglected as a child, would he have been so surly?

The sets, light and sound created a gently intimidating atmosphere that was appropriate for a production open to children.  My only problem was that when an actor had their back to you it was hard to hear them.  The first transition between the two rooms felt slow and slightly awkward, but the second seemed much smoother and served to transform the mood successfully from Scrooges depressive night adventures to an optimistic Christmas Day.  

The bleakness and intensity of those ghostly confrontations was broken up with a few pantomime style games that helped maintain concentration for people young and old.  It was good to see even quite young children taking part.  Yet despite considerable phase and change in the play it did not lose its pace or rhythm and those interactive activities did not detract from the story, rather they were worked seamlessly into the production.  

This play to me was most enjoyable.  I particularly liked the performance of Bob Cratchit (Matthew Bulgo) and of Tiny Tim (Lewis Lowry) who brought a stubborn optimism to contrast the materialistic ignorance of Scrooge.  As with many stories, it is great to see the underdog triumph in adversity especially when celestial help was required. It has made for a most pleasant addition to my Christmas celebrations. Christmas Cracker or mere humbug?  I saw a bag of unopened humbugs by the door as I left.

Review Yes Prime Minister, David Ball Productions, Theatr Clwyd by Richard Evans

Living up to a legend?

Undoubtedly, the BBC series, Yes Minister and its sequel, Yes Prime Minister have provided us with many comic moments and fond memories.  To recreate that show on stage, doing justice to those original characters yet producing something fresh is a challenge that is met with panache in this show at Theatr Clwyd.  A combination of a great script and excellent delivery make this a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

While the script was at times complex and wordy, it captured the spirit of the original TV programme in a contemporary story that was easily understood and well communicated.  It struck a balance between political satire and farce that engaged the audience throughout.  

The lead actors were true to the characters portrayed in the original series yet not hidebound by them.  In fact, theybrought their own persona and comic touch to bear successfully.  Of particular note was Peter Forbes as Sir Humphrey whose handling of complex obfuscating sentences was an exercise in memory and diction that was passed with flying colours.  Paul Bradley, who for several years has played in TV series like Eastenders and Holby City was an excellent Jim Hacker, producing a comic performance naturally,combining a shambolic ingénue and streetwise politician well. I particularly liked Sarah Earnshaw as political advisor Claire Sutton, who had a confident, relaxed charm as she outfoxed the seasoned civil servants around her.

This was not a production that had me rolling in the aisles but it will live long in the memory and had many one liners that had the audience chuckling.  “We are here to serve the people, not to do what is right!’

I would recommend this play to anyone with a memory of the sitcom or who feels a frustration whenever they listen to those politicians who never know how to answer a straight question. That’s probably most of us then.  It serves as a good night out and left me with a warm, feel good factor.  A thoroughly worthwhile theatre experience.