Ten years ago this month I took my young daughters to see their first big ‘West End’ show. It was Cinderella at the Old Vic. Expensive tickets were bought, a late night planned, huge excitement mounted. The production was lavish, a real visual feast. The acting, of course, was excellent. The performance was packed with young families – children, parents and grandparents.
But what sticks in the memory was the production’s crudeness. Stephen Fry’s script was stuffed with unnecessary and, on the whole, unpleasant jokes, which would have sat well in a Jim Davidson performance. Many of the jokes were hugely inappropriate for young families.
Fortunately, my children were too young to understand. Nevertheless for the first and only time I picked up the telephone and complained. I swiftly received a refund, and was told many others had also complained too.
It was, then, with a certain sense of trepidation, that we all trooped once more along to the Old Vic last week. The building has had an unfortunate ‘paint job’ and is undeservedly suffering a reputational hit by association with Kevin Spacey. But the theatre itself remains one of the most beautiful of all London’s many fine theatres, and his production of the familiar and much loved Dickens’ classic and the theatre are well matched: the stage is ‘in the round’, with the audience and the action seamlessly combined.
Rhys Ifans dominates the production as a compelling and charismatic Scrooge. His is a virtuoso performance. This is, at one and the same time, a traditional and brilliant staging. It moves seamlessly into moments of classic pantomime, back to compelling morality tale, to beautiful bell ringing and carol singing, and a powerful and overt Christian message of love, forgiveness, redemption and forgiveness.
There will not be a church in the country that delivers the Christmas message more powerfully this season than this theatrical production. Whether this was a specific intention or not of the director I do not know, but if Dickens himself were to see it, it is likely he would be satisfied that it fairly and truly reflected his meaning and intention.
A powerful and skillful cast supports Ifans. They deliver a master class in versatility, authenticity and use of the whole theatre – from the welcome with tangerines and mince pies; through to…..well I will not spoil it for you. Suffice to say the whole theatre is used in several imaginative ways. This is a beautiful and powerful production. If you can go and see it – it is a rare treat.