“A Christmas Carol: Smoke and Mirrors”, The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter.

It was a black night, an evening so dark even the stars were loathe to appear, a night writhing, screaming in the bitter embrace of trecherous, freezing meteorological hootinannies…

Right, now that I have your attention with my little bit of topical spooky business, I present to you, *fanfare* today’s review!

“Scrooge”, pinching his pennies.

“A Christmas Carol: Smoke & Mirrors” at the Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter.

In the auditorium of the Bike Shed Theatre, amongst red-brick stone-work, rusting car parts and iron cogs, there sat a “covetous old sinner”, surrounded by smog, thumbing through his accounts. It was this isolated shell of a man, ‘Ebeneezer Scrooge’,  with whom a small audience spent a remarkable evening of supernatural story-telling and Festive frivolities.

Bike Shed Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol: Smoke and Mirrors” was an enticingly eerie adaptation of one of the most re-hashed and dramatised novels in the English language, Charles Dicken’s 1843 classic, “A Christmas Carol”.

The production’s ‘Steampunk’ aesthetic was an intelligent visual indicator both of the traditional context of the story, and of the modern social & financial circumstances upon which the production comments. Heavily industrialised set design, an abundance of smoke, dirty Victorian attire, and the projected Christmas ghosts of the past, present & future, created an atmosphere heavy with the smog and coal-fueled filth of the industrial revolution, whilst also pertaining to modern interests and stage-craft.

Similarly, topical references scripted into the dialogue (such as the use of the phrase “Big Society” & refrences to Karl Marx) in combination with the use of traditional carols such as “The Holly & the Ivy” (beautifully sung by the cast),
highlighted the relevance of the story in relation to the financially driven society of the mid 19th Century, and which has been paralleled by the capitalist construct of the 21st Century.

The cast of four (and one stage hand) performed seamless character, costume and set changes: their almost velveteen movements and timing helped the production maintain the ghostly tension established in the first act.

Ben Crispin (Ebeneezer Scrooge) gave a remarkable performance, rife with succint and highly emotive facial expressions,
not to mention a vocal delivery which gave rise to all aspects of Scrooge’s personality; his anger, his humility, his loneliness; Crispin’s performance was heart-wrenching, yet drole when appropriate.

Bike Shed’s mode of storytelling forged a renewed appreciation for Dicken’s work by harking to our own social context in relation to the humanitarian commentary within “A Christmas Carol”, as well as providing an evening of stunning aesthetic and dramatic engagement through evocative performances, intelligent use of props, puppets, and projection, and excellent use of the stage space.

My only regret, is that I didn’t see this production before Christmas! It certainly did my conscience a world of good judging by the financial contributions made to the first busker we came across after leaving the theatre. As such, it seems appropriate to end this review on a slightly retrospective wish of seasonal good-will. And so, “as Tiny Tim observed”, in what has now become a highly cliched and almost cringe-worthy term of expression: “Gawd bless us, everyone!”

However, for the record, “Muppets Christmas Carol” still rules. Zeee best. Numero Uno. Oh yes. Absolutely. (Sorry Bike Shed).

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