A Christmas Carol at the Shelley Theatre, Bournemouth

ACC H-R 001A GROUP of itinerant players, each with a musical instrument, surrounded by raggedy children, turns up amid the Christmas crowd, and just a few notes on the fiddle captures their attention. The children whirl and dance, their parents play and clap and before long everyone is woven into the show.

The magic of the Klezmer music and the recitations is broken by the arrival of a grumpy old man, exuding cold and berating the revellers. It’s Scrooge.

In Helen Watt’s new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol for Dorset Corset, performed at the atmospheric Shelley Theatre in Boscombe, Bournemouth, this introductory scene happens in the cavernous new extension, so the audience is thoroughly involved by the time they follow the old miser to his home – on stage in the historic little theatre.

We are all awaiting the arrival of the ghosts that the late Jacob Marley has promised. And, as the evening progresses and Ebeneezer Scrooge sees the error of his ways, the audience is able to experience this famous tale in the sort of surroundings where it might have first been seen.

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A Christmas Carol was first published as a novella on 19th December 1843. Shelley’s theatre in Bournemouth came into existence about 20 years later, and its crumbling charm adds to the spirit of the piece.

But while the audience is wrapped in festive blankets and sitting in comfy seats, the Cratchit family, seven of them huddled round a meagre goose and a tiny pudding, come to vivid and chilly life on stage.

As always with Dorset Corset productions, the story is told with music, movement and powerful visual stimuli, performed by versatile actor-musicians for whom multi-tasking is a way of life.

Staying true to the ever-popular original is essential in this story, and Dorset-based Helen and composer Eamonn O’Dwyer have created a show that is both comfortingly familiar and entirely fresh.

In a time when new urban and rural poverty is writ large all around us, Dickens’s story has a new resonance and a message for us all in an increasingly commercialised society where “shopping” was chosen as the main reason for Christmas in a recent survey.

There are five adult and five child actors in this production, only one of them returning to the company.ACC H-R 017

Chris Talman is a familiar figure on the region’s stages, and he is joined by Tony Stansfield as a Scrooge whose newly light heart is totally convincing. Laura Trundle, musical director Kate Marlais and recent graduate and Boscombe native Steve McCourt between them play all the adult characters, both real and supernatural.

Puppetry and mime play their part on this sparsely effective stage, and the children, Freddy Downham, Eliza Talman, Bethany Bradbury, Stan Talman and Maddie Trueman, add poignancy to the tale.

This is a Christmas Carol with a powerful message and rare charm, performed in a perfect setting until Christmas Eve. See it if you can


Photography: © Ten Six Eight Photography – www.tensixeight.com

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