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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Young Vic

By Matt Wolf

  Scene from A Christmas Carol/Ikrismas Kherol/ph: Keith Pattison

The British theater is particularly good at seasonal entertainments that depart from the norm, and nowhere more so than when it comes to forsaking the Dickensian routine of yet another recitation of A Christmas Carol. (Besides, once you've heard Patrick Stewart deliver that one, do you really want to listen to anyone else?) The capital is really coming up trumps on this front this year, first with a new South African take on the time-honored story from the Isango /Portobello production team and, within the week, a devised RSC commission by Anthony Neilson at the Soho Theatre: Dickens's festive period parable being a belated point of reference of sorts, if early interviews with Neilson are any gauge.

First, though, to Ikrismas Kherol, or A Christmas Carol, adapted and directed by Mark Dornford-May and with the formidable Pauline Malefane playing a stern-faced, female Scrooge. The most roof-raising moments of the production come right at the outset, as we are hurtled down into the mines presided over by Malefane's scold of a Scrooge, who argues, to hell with happy Christmas and doesn't seem to mind that a once-noted singer has lost her voice. The ingenuity of the adaptation thereby weds the insistence on collapsing past, present, and future - already there in Dickens - into the uniquely black process of connecting up with your past and, by extension, with your people: August Wilson and Kwame Kwei-Armah have forged playwriting careers out of precisely this. And so this Scrooge must learn to accommodate the spirits of all (that) strive within me, the need, as she's told, to see past yourself synonymous with an ability to open oneself to humanity. And, in so doing, to find a renewed voice.

You deny your own history at grievous personal cost, as Scrooge finds when she is confronted not just by the three ghosts of Dickens's tale but by film footage of a saddening family history that has encompassed the ongoing scourge of AIDS. Scrooge may argue early on that singing is for fools, despite having had her first solo age 12, but she comes to confront the more ruinous foolishness that goes with closing your eyes and heart to an epidemic laying waste to her township and to the community's collective sense of self. Dornford-May directed the film-within-a-play and one could certainly argue that rather too much use is made of celluloid footage for what, after all, is a narrative happening in three dimensions. And there are passages where an undeniable crudeness gets in the way of what should be wonderfully rough and ready in light of a 29-strong company tremendously ready and willing to please.

Still, there are times when the overriding good nature of an event forestalls quibbles, and it's all but impossible not to get caught up in the gathering enthusiasms of a company already visible on stage as the audience takes its seats. Presumably, The Magic Flute, with which this show is running in repertory, possesses greater musical and theatrical sophistication, and I can't wait to see what Malefane does with the Queen of the Night. (The two are running in repertory through Jan. 19.) But those who see only A Christmas Carol will surely be moved and entranced by a female Tiny Tim, here Tiny Thembisa (Poseletso Sejosingoe), first seen on crutches collecting sponsorship for her school, and I love the image of a white-clad, jewelled Ghost of Christmas Past (Znele Gracious Mbatha) who looks as if she ambled in from a particularly funky Lynn Nottage play.<


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