Christopher Eccleston shines bright in Jack Thorne's 'A Christmas Carol' at the Old Vic

The most glorious ‘A Christmas Carol’ is back, and it is as wonderful as ever

Anya Ryan, 13th December 2023

The Old Vic’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ has been a returning visitor to London during the festive period for the last 6 years. But what a welcome one it is - you’d have to have a heart as cold as ice to not fall for its sparkling charms. Year after year, it comes back with its tuneful renditions of carols, ringing handbells, and arms full of Christmas spirit. You could catch many productions of the Dickens classic this season, but this magnificent, deeply affecting version written by Jack Thorne remains the king.

This year, it is the turn of ex-Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston to play Scrooge. Swapping his usual rough northern vowels for smoother RP tones takes a second before we warm up to him. But, once we do, our eyes water. Matthew Warchus’s production greatly influences the role of Scrooge’s father, who kicks any sense of goodness out of his son with taunts and violence. It hurts to watch him lose his sparkle, but as it returns, it is electric. Eccelston wears the realisation that his life has been cruel on his face: his brow crinkles in agony as he tries to shake it off - “I’m a good man,” he wails. From a stiff, gruff, angry money lender, he slowly relaxes into a gentler soul.

It’s a story that teaches the true meaning of Christmas: to share with those around us and to love with open hearts. But this adaptation builds this message into each crevice. Decorated with extravagant Christmas puddings, turkeys spinning from the ceiling, snow and lanterns, it is dripping with a Victorian Christmas feeling. The audience, who sit in the round, is in on the festivity. We eagerly accept oranges and mince pies from actors as we take our seats. Children are ushered onto the stage to collect mammoth-sized wobbling jellies and are greeted by Scrooge’s hugs. This is a show you want to be part of.

And perhaps that’s because the ensemble is so essential. Around the stage’s edges, they harmonise pitch-perfectly and reach to lift doors and boxes from the floor. The central scenes are given character by their occasional asides and glorious music. Everything is told with immaculate detail: the ghosts of past, present and future push prams that later come together to form the base of Scrooge’s coffin. The actor playing younger Scrooge appears in flashes, like an intruding and inescapable memory. Tiny Tim is so pure you’d have to be made of stone not to adore him.

The result is a Christmas show wrapped in joy, goodwill and real magic. It’s the same as when it first premiered, but that’s no bother. Take your friends, take your family - there’s a little gift for everyone here.