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  • Miles Hedley

A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Old Royal Naval College

We all know A Christmas Carol – indeed, most people are likely to have enjoyed dozens of versions of Charles Dickens’ matchless tale of the redemptive power of love. So how does it avoid the old trap of familiarity breeding contempt?

Part of the answer, of course, lies in the novel’s sheer brilliance with its Yuletide setting, its political and moral messages (sadly still relevant), its spellbinding characters and its fabulous ghosts. But it is also due to the amazing range of adaptations the book has inspired – graphic novels, TV, films, theatre, ballet, opera, animation, even mime. And never forget the Muppets’ unique musical take on it.

Talk about a tough act to follow! But Goblin Theatre haven’t let that put them off having their own shot at uniqueness - and the result, staged in the majestic surroundings of the PaInted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, is a joy.

For a start, the production is site-specific with a string of neat references to painter Sir James Thornhill’s recently restored masterpiece as well as to Greenwich itself. And the tremendous original music and lyrics, by Will Dollard and Mary Erskine, conjure up an air of timeless universality with tunes reminiscent of everything from medieval minstrelsy to 21st century dance via North African rhythms and Celtic folk.

A terrifically talented cast - Victoria Boyce, Matt Burns, Niccolò Curradi, Rob Gathercole and Mia Jerome – not only act and sing but also play all the instruments, including keyboards, guitar, accordion, trumpet, banjalele and cello. The only part they don’t cover is Tiny Tim who, in an inspired move by director Andy Berry and designer Oliver Hymans, is represented by a singing violin complete with its bow for an arm. Tiny Tim also has the best joke of the night – but I’m not going to spoil it for you.

The show is, like its source material, a lovely mix of comedy and tragedy, emotion and sentimentality – and it’s a great way to get you in the Christmas mood. My only quibble is that on the night I saw it those of us sitting on the benches against the side wall found it difficult to hear some of the lyrics because they kept getting drowned out by their own echoes in the cavernous hall. Despite that, I have no hesitation in urging you to see the show during its December run at the ORNC. As I said earlier, it’s a joy.

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