Theatre Review: A Christmas Carol – New Playhouse, Manchester

Flanagan Collective A Christmas Carol

Festive, fun and fabulous, The Flanagan Collective’s A Christmas Carol will have you whipped up into the festive spirit quicker than you can suck a Humbug

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is my favourite Christmas story so you can imagine my excitement when I received an invite to The Flanagan Collective’s festive adaptation at Manchester’s New Playhouse. The performance promised to warm the cockles of my heart with some ‘hearty fare and a flagon of Marley’s finest’… and it didn’t disappoint.

For those who have been in hibernation for the past 171 years, A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old miser who hates Christmas and all it stands for. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley who tells him that three ghosts (the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future) will visit him. When Scrooge realises what will happen to him and those he loves if he doesn’t change his miserable ways, he awakens a changed man and begins to make an amends for his past.

Dickens’ classic novel has been adapted many times since it was first published in 1843. From film (The Muppets, Scrooged), to opera (Mister Scrooge) to a Broadway musical (Comin’ Uptown), almost everyone has had a go at adapting the famous Christmas tale. So what makes The Flanagan Collective’s adaptation so different? Well firstly, the story is told over platters of hearty fare. As the audience tuck into delicious meats, hot pies and fresh bread, the actors stay in character, developing the story bit by bit. The play is also interactive so the audience are encouraged to take part, from contributing to ghostly sounds to partaking in the festive games. The idea was first conceived by The Flanagan Collective in 2011 and is now in its fourth year running. The result is an original adaptation that is fresh, innovative and a little bit different.

The evening starts with Jacob Marley (John Holt Roberts) addressing the audience in the New Playhouse’s pop-up bar. We (the audience) are charged with the task of warming the heart of the much-maligned, the bah-humbugging Ebenezer Scrooge and play fellow ghosts in the story. As Scrooge enters his parlour spooked by Marley’s appearance, we follow.

Inside Scrooge’s cold and dark parlour, the set is simplistic but incredibly effective and team do a wonderful job of using props, lighting, candles and music to set the ghostly scene. The audience are seated on benches and chairs around the room and eagerly watch as Marley tells the story of Scrooge’s past. We are even encouraged to get involved by ringing bells and joining in the ‘Ooohhs’ and ‘Aaahhs’ at timely moments.

As the story reaches Christmas present, the food is brought out and the story continues over platters of hearty fare, warming mulled wine and a sprinkling of mince pies. We are promised a belly full of the finest fare and we certainly get it. The food and drink, which is supplied Manchester Catering Company, is hot, delicious and plentiful. Platters of cheese, cooked meats and bread are laid across the table and Marley makes his way around the large table with mulled wine for everyone. The main course is Steak and Robinson’s ale pie, homemade three cheese and onion pie, a selection of seasonal vegetables and garlic and rosemary roast potatoes, all of which were delicious. Desert consists of local cheeses, homemade mince pies and warm Christmas pudding with brandy butter. There were even Christmas crackers to get everyone get into the Christmas spirit.

A Xmas Carol#

After the meal, Marley encourages the audience (and Scrooge) to get into the Christmas spirit with a Christmas sing-a-long and a few party games. As the audience start to relax, the fun and festive atmosphere increases. It almost seems a shame to spoilt the festive fun when the atmosphere turns and Scrooge takes a glimpse into the Christmas future to see what will happen if he doesn’t change his ways.

The true stars of the evening are the magnificent actors who played Marley and Scrooge. John Holt Roberts is fantastic as the cheerful yet spooky Jacob Marley. His jovial nature makes the audience feel at ease and his camaraderie with Scrooge is comical.  He also plays the guitar and sings at parts of the play, demonstrating his talents both as an actor but also as a musician.

Al Barclay is equally brilliant in his Flanagan Collective debut as the miserable old miser Ebenezer Scrooge. His ab-lib lines with the audience are particularly good and his attempt at dancing during the festive sing-a-long had everyone in stitches. Both actors stayed in character throughout the meal which added to the fun.

As the play drew to a close, I took a quick look around the room to see that everyone had a smile on their face. Even the men, some of whom had obviously been dragged along by their wives, got into the festive spirit in the end.

Festive, fun and a little daft at times, The Flanagan Collective’s A Christmas Carol will have you whipped up into the festive spirit quicker than you can suck a Humbug. A wonderful adaptation of one of the best loved Christmas stories of all time.

5 out of 5 stars

A Christmas Carol is on at Manchester’s New Playhouse from Monday 1 December to Friday 19 December. Tickets are priced at £35 (including food) or £30 for group bookings. To book tickets, visit the New Playhouse website.

Images: James Drury Photography