An Edinburgh Christmas Carol – The Royal Lyceum

Adapted and Directed by Tony Cownie

From the novel by Charles Dickens

Instilling our most cherished festive tale, with the façade of our fair city, should be a winning combination which sits alongside holly and ivy, wine and mistletoe or the Queen’s Speech and a power nap. An Edinburgh Christmas Carol places Ebenezer Scrooge, the original curmudgeon, on the cold, cobbled streets of Edinburgh, where he may bump into a few familiar faces. In recent years The Royal Lyceum has taken us to Neverland, to Wonderland and even into Narnia, but nothing feels quite as right as being on your doorstep.

The script, largely, perhaps too large, remains unchanged. With the inclusion of Greyfriars’ Bobby providing wonderfully inventive puppetry and a few gags to boot, the story of A Christmas Carol has been stuck onto the streets of Edinburgh. Crawford Logan is, an approachable Scrooge. Miserable as ever, there’s a distinct lack of animosity, as the performance is rich and has conviction, he’s an absolute fit for an Edinburgh Scrooge, but there’s a needed edge to Logan’s characterisation. We find it difficult to buy into his postulations of the workhouse, decreasing the surplus populations and the stories darker moments. Herein is the key issue you may find, Tony Cownie’s adaptation is just too sweet to stomach. 

An overlying view of the production’s intention, and one’s taste with dictate your enjoyment of An Edinburgh’s Christmas Carol. The calibre of the Lyceum’s Christmas productions is of tremendous standard, which subverts the usual paradigms we view with a text. Whether this is Peter Pan from the perspective of Wendy, or Alice in Wonderland, emphasising the macabre outlook, the psychosis of the drama and the absurdity. An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, by extension, is rather safe. There is nothing wholly offensive to the production, it is by and large an entertaining, festive production which warms the heart which beats beneath the chortling chest – but substantially removes itself from Dicken’s, or even Auld Reekie’s haunted past.

For first and foremost, A Christmas Carol is a ghost story. And in quite the turn-about, it is neither the haunting apparition of Christmas Future, nor the nostalgic pains of Past which are the memorable performances, but rather the often-overlooked Ghost of Christmas Present, or rather ingeniously, The Ghost of Christmas Nouadays. Steven McNicoll is the quintessential being of mirthful jolly, with his red sack and ginger beard, Nouadays is the epitome of a Scottish Christmas. McNichol’s presence brings a needed vitality to the spirit realm, following an unmemorable Ghost of Langsyne, and the grim prospects of the Ghost of Ayont from Eva Traynor and Taqi Nazeer.

The ingenuity for this Spectre, Ayont, a headless drummer boy is colossal in imagination, though also in size. As his rhythmic beats echo into the night, this is the section of the tale we sadists enjoy. The warnings Scrooge endures, the fate which may befall the selfish man as he realises the suffering he has caused and the path to redemption. The prevalent issue of tone direction is at its most evident here, where the production still cannot grasp the haunting of Dicken’s classic with Cownie’s direction. As Scrooge, in what should be his final moments of crushing realisation against the sombre beat of a headless drummer, sits jarringly lost among uneven humour and awkward delivery.

This humour, which strays into Pantomime territory at times, dips from over-the-top, obvious and into misplaced. Choice gags, which should be hitting the rafters, fall short at the audiences’ feet as a few timing issues pervade. In tune with every ounce of the humour, running away with the loudest, most significant deliveries is Grant O’Rourke. His performance is distinctive, even against the choruses onstage. The moments are short but considerably steady in appearances. His chemistry with the puppets is fluid, responding to Edie Edmundson’s puppetry naturally and with exceptional effect.

Tiny Tim, as tiny, as can be, is a scale rod-puppet along with Bobby the dug, the very same of Greyfriars’ Kirkyard fame. Cownie has spliced Bobby rather well with the story, a sprinkling of flavour rather than a forceful injection of a narrative. It’s a connection with the community, and the craft of the puppets matches the technical levels of stage design.

What we have is a decent production, akin to those gifts we receive from aunts and uncles; pleasant, harmless, but fails to live up to expectations. Now, these are not the words of a Scrooge. The implication is that such tremendous talent, innovative design-work and ideas seem to have been watered down. It’s frustrating, given Tony Cownie’s strikingly sensational works with The Belle’s Stratagem and Thon Man Molière that An Edinburgh Christmas Carol fails to hit the right notes, there seems to have been pulled punches out of worry from Edinburgh’s most dreadful force – middle-class parents. 

An Edinburgh Christmas Carol runs at The Royal Lyecum until January 4th 2020. Tickets available here:

Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

Alice in Wonderland – Traverse Theatre

Original author: Lewis Carroll

Director: Niall Henry

Dramaturg: Jocelyn Clarke

How do you re-tell Alice in Wonderland in a way which has not been done before? The truth is, many can’t. Blue Raincoat, however, take an explored aspect, of an older Alice revisiting her time in Wonderland. How they go about this, cobbled together with string and sinew is intriguingly different.

As we are catapulted through the tale of Alice in Wonderland, this is whirlwind storytelling. We are swept off our feet, whizzing around the pages of the story, encountering all of our fond childhood favourites. They seem though, unlike what many will remember. For this is no Disneyfied version of madness, no this is Lewis Carroll via the Brothers Grimm.

There’s an undercurrent of identity with Alice but also with our own stories author. As the older Alice recounts her time in Wonderland, she begins to involve herself, blurring the lines of which Alice we are watching. Our two Alice’s are Hilary Brown-Walsh (Older) and Miriam Needham (Young).

They match each other well, almost too well, as little seems to change in Alice following her adventures. Brown-Walsh makes for an adept narrator at first, an intriguing Alice, but it is in the opening and closing where she shines. Needham has clout and a great deal of vigour. Her aggression takes a twisted form, the Cheshire’s infamous; “We’re All Mad Here” hints at an Alice with an unhinged fascination.

Where many adaptations fall is in forgetting the original stories appeal, the attraction to Alice in Wonderland is inherently the journey she goes on. The velocity in which we traverse this incarnation is quick, perhaps too quick for a younger audience, doing what it can to keep the audience up to speed. Though it will not wait for stragglers with seldom peaceful moments.

The Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, along with the March Hare, the White Rabbit and of course, the Cheshire Cat, these are the classic creations of literature. It is with such care, such love and devotion that Blue Raincoat give each one the performance they deserve.

Most notably Sean Elliot as the March Hare and Red Queen and John Carty the White Rabbit and Cheshire Cat. They both give such conviction in their roles, taking the insanity of Wonderland and pushing it to the nth degree. Elliot brings tremendous energy, his Queen is as menacing as she is ridiculous.

Paul McDonnell’s set design is made from an assortment of curios and simple pieces from around an abandoned home. The magic created is clever with large portrait frames which serve as doors, card guards or a way to visualise movement. A series of tables visualise Alice’s gradual increase or decrease, a delightful way to deal with difficult transitions.

As we lament the Mock Turtle, the madness of it all comes crashing down in melancholic doldrums. Here Bowen-Walsh serenades her young self in the guise of the elderly Turtle. It’s a bittersweet melody centred on the soup for which the Turtle is famous. Its sentiment becomes clear as the old Turtles eyes well, a testament to the emotive performer Bowen-Walsh is. Lingering a little too long, souring the effect – a verse less and perhaps it might have kept its impact.

A tantalising macabre version, Blue Raincoat’s Alice in Wonderland is a visual feast, inventive in its storytelling mechanics. It’s rammed filled with characters, clever artistry and some funny lines but finds itself wrapping it’s coattails up in its own whirlwind of delivery.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/alice-in-wonderland-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Production touring: https://www.blueraincoat.com/alice-in-wonderland/j6hcv68zki2l1wmqp4h0jv8rzyaj1w

Image Contribtuion: Steve Rogers