A Christmas Carol / Ikrismas Kherol
An Isango/Portobello – Young Vic production in association with the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town
Adapted from Charles Dickens’s book by Mark Dornford-May
Words and music by Mandisi Dyantyis, Mbali Kgosidintsi, Pauline Malefane & Nolufefe Mtshabe
Young Cratchitt / Miner – Luvo Rasemeni
Cratchitt – Luthando Mthi
Security Guard – Zamile Gantana
Tiny Thembisa – Poseletso Sejosingoe
Scrooge – Pauline Malefane
Mrs Cratchitt – Asanda Ndlwana
Winifred – Busisiwe Ngejane
First Ghost – Zanele Gracious Mbatha
Second Ghost – Mbali Kgosidintsi
Third Ghost – Nolunthando Boqwana
Nosisi – Siyanda Ncobo
Bheki – Clyde Berning
Martha – Thomakazi Holland
Township Women – Thozamo Mdliva, Bongiwe Mapassa, Philisa Sibeko, Tembisa Mlanjeni & Nolufefe Mtshabe
Township Men – Mzwandile C. Kambule & Mandisi Dyantyis
Miners – Fikile Thani, Mhlekazi Andy Mosiea, Khanyiso Gwenzane, Xolani Momo, Malungisa Balinulo, Sibusiso Matshikiza, Sonwabo Ntshata, Simphiwe Mayeki & Zebulon K. Mmusi
Mark Dornford-May – Director
Lungello Ngamlana – Choreography
Mannie Manim – Lighting
Leigh Bishop & Annamarie Seegers – Costume Design
Dan Watkins – Technical Design
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 8 December, 2007
Venue: Young Vic Theatre, The Cut, Waterloo, London
Charles Dickens’s publishers were not impressed by the author’s manuscript of “A Christmas Carol”, so he published it himself and it became one of his most successful books, selling no less than six-thousand copies alone on Christmas Day 1843. Since then it has never been far from the public’s imagination and has been adapted for all kinds of other entertainment – radio, television, theatre, dance and opera. The favourite however, has been for the cinema with no less than 28 versions – there may be more – the earliest by Thomas Edison from 1908 and the most famous perhaps being from 1951, with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Albert Finney did a musical version by Leslie Bricusse in 1970, which Anthony Newley and Tommy Steele have both played on stage. There has been a version by The Muppets with Michael Caine, Disney has featured it with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and even The Flintstones, Bugs Bunny and Blackadder have all been involved in versions of Dickens’s book. It was the first story Dickens ever read at his public appearances and he kept it in his repertoire right up until his death.
The story’s universal popularity is easy to understand. It takes a mean villain in Ebenezer Scrooge and, through the strength of the narrative and as it reveals his past, present and future life, turns him into a man of compassion. This is especially welcome at Christmas when most people are looking for a feel-good tale to warm the cockles of their hearts. Well, who wants cold cockles? Dickens’s Christmas setting makes it an obvious choice for the pantomime season of good cheer and goodwill to all men, but we must not forget the author’s original intentions for the piece. He wrote “A Christmas Carol” as a result of his reading of a Parliamentary report on the employment of children down the mines and in factories. The real subjects of “A Christmas Carol” is ignorance and want – as revealed by the Spirit of Christmas Present rather than just the antics of the miserly Scrooge or his dismissal of Christmas as a time for rejoicing.
Mark Dornford-May’s adaptation for the Young Vic production of “A Christmas Carol” adds another layer of meaning and understanding to Dickens’s original. He sets it in a contemporary South African township where the poverty is probably just as bad or even worse than it was in Victorian London. The poor workers are employed down the goldmines and it is ignorance and ‘want’ that dominate their lives. The production opens with a portrait of a typical day as the miners descend into the earth to go to work, rather as if they are going down to dig their graves. A recreation of the noise, sweat and sheer hard work is quite disturbing in its ferocity, while the acceptance of their poverty-stricken lives provides a moving counterpoint. Now the cast is all from such a township, Khayelitsha, where life carries on amid horrendous conditions of heat, cold, poverty and violence.
For many the one saving grace is religion and singing, which go hand in hand. The strong choral tradition of South Africa has ensured that there are many talented singers and Mark Dornford-May has assembled an astonishing cast of naturals. The leading lady is Pauline Malefane who here sings the role of Scrooge (and had a hand in the writing) in what is probably the only time the character has been played by a woman. She is also singing the Queen of the Night in the company’s other production, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, which plays in repertory with “A Christmas Carol”. She gives an amazing performance in what is an unexpected spin on the character; after all there are plenty of bad women in the world. When Tiny Tim (another female role, played by Poseletso Sejosingoe) asks Scrooge to sponsor her, the skinflint initially refuses until the spirits start to appear and she is forced to come to her proper senses, forgets that her money is hers alone and offers it to the poor child.
It’s a fairly simple production but one that packs a very hefty punch. There is nothing too complicated in the way of design, except for props and costumes and the use of film that conjure up a backdrop of poverty. But it is mainly through the brilliant choral ensemble work that emotions are expressed. The songs are in Afrikaans, the dialogue in English and, as the story is so well known, it is very easy to follow even with the radical changes in character and setting – the many children in the audience seemed to be entranced. It certainly provides a timely reminder of Dickens’s original intentions and makes for a very entertaining and often-moving experience. Pantomime it ain’t and it’s all the better for that.
- A Christmas Carol and The Magic Flute are at the Young Vic Theatre until 19 January 2008
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