Review: A Christmas Carol @ Northern Stage

Culture editor Carys Rose Thomas

Carys Rose Thomas
25th February 2019
Image: Pamela Raith Photography

Before seeing Northern Stage's A Christmas Carol, I forgot about that time a few years ago when the government found a way to make a xenophobic statement out of something as basic as an English GCSE.

Luckily, me and all of the other now-21 year olds managed to just skip out on being the first year where GCSE syllabuses exclusively contained ENGLISH texts by ENGLISH authors. None of this Gatsby rubbish. Of Mice And Men? Fuck Lenny, he's out the window. As an English undergrad, one single semester away from graduation, let me tell you that the idea all you study in English in British English writing is utter horse manure, as is this stupid legislative change the government made in 2015. If anyone had tried to swap my beloved 20th century GCSE texts for some 19th century dickens rubbish when I was in school, no doubt I would have kicked off a bit.

If there's one thing 15 year olds are hyper-conscious of navigating their way through, it's being cool

Upon walking into northern Stage on a chilly Tuesday evening, I was confused when I was met by a sea of somewhat disgruntled teenagers stood in the lobby - not your usual press night theatregoers. It was at this point I realised the stroke of genius Norther Stage had struck in putting on a month-long run of what has become one of the most popularly studied new GCSE texts. Baring this in mind, the production takes on a whole new purpose. It's not just there to be a quirky re-imagining of a festive classic, it has to find a way to appeal to some of the toughest critics and crowds you could ever find: a school trip full of 15 year olds.

If there's one thing 15 year olds are hyper-conscious of navigating their way through, it's being cool. Now don't get me wrong, theatre is many things, but it's not exactly cool is it. Either people think you're a pretentious swine or a nerd. Unlike a gig or film, there's no suave way to say "yeah I'm just off to this, erm play tonight. It's like some really, like, cutting edge stuff. Yeah,, really cool." I ended up sat right behind a class of schoolkids when I went to see A Christmas Carol. After keeping tabs on their reactions and responses throughout the production, I would say that despite it's decidedly uncool nature, a majority of them did appear to enjoy the production.

As soon as you made your way into the theatre, the traverse staging of the piece jilted you out of your standard and expected notion of what theatre 'should' look like. The transparency of the piece was equally as refreshing, with all musicians and instruments on-stage, each musician also taking parts in the chorus at times. The Musical Director, Dr. G. Hannabiell Sanders was, by anyone's measurements, unbelievably cool. The fusion of music styles in the production were made contemporary and fun, nothing like the dreary British carols from the 1800s you may usually associate with the likes of Scrooge and Marley's Ghost. I spent a while debating whether or not I would actually call the production a musical or not. To be honest, I'm still not sure, but the music did play an integral part to the piece. You could see the tuned-out earth of the schoolkids in front of me perk up a bit every time a number began. It gave a story they have otherwise studied relentlessly until every sap of live is drained out of it an aspect of surprise. Not just them, actually, but for the whole audience. I doubt there was a single person in that room who didn't already have some kind of patch knowledge of the story at the very least - even if it's just from watching the Muppet's version once or twice.

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