Exactly one month before Christmas day, the Lyceum opens their theatrical festive fare with a reprise of their successful 2019 production, An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, from writer and director Tony Cownie.
Set in mid 19th century Edinburgh, on the basis that Dickens was alleged to have seen the name Scroggie on a gravestone in Edinburgh with the occupation of ‘mealman’ that was misread as ‘mean man’, this very Scottish version incorporates our very own Greyfriars Bobby into the classic seasonal morality tale. Dugs may be allowed gey near everywhere these days, but not on stage so far! Bobby is marvelously realized in puppet form, thanks to puppet maker Simon Auton, and terrifically brought to life by puppeteer Stacey Mitchell.
Neil Murray’s ingenious set creating the interiors and exteriors of the Auld Toun, takes the audience, with the aid of a bit of sprinkled magic at times, through the various stages of the journey of Scrooge, brilliantly captured by the redoubtable Crawford Logan, from crabbit auld miser to genial and generous citizen of Auld Reekie.
Scrooge’s sobriety and mean spiritedness may strike as particularly Scottish and Presbyterian, in stark contrast with the ironic optimism of the doun hauden Bob Cratchit (Richard Conlan) and his family, but Tony Cownie incorporates other national characteristics such as our pawkie humour. Cownie’s script, that’s peppered with Scots words and phrases, all delivered with authenticity by the entire cast, is a delight to the ear. Also laced across the play, are references to the fact that Christmas was not officially a holiday in Scotland in the 19th century and indeed did not become so till 1958. Live music from accordionist Christina Bain and communal singing of Auld Lang Syne, rather than a schmaltzy seasonal song at the end, is therefore very fitting.
Apart from the main character of Scrooge, the cast members take on a variety of roles with apparent ease, allowing the wonderful Steven McNicoll to show off his prodigious comic talent. Notable among these in his outlandish role as the ghost of Nouadays, played as a hilarious kilted Santa figure worthy of any pantomime.
In advance of Dickens, Scotland’s Bard Robert Burns wrote, ‘O wuid some power the giftie gie us tae see oursels as ithers see us.’ Scrooge meets with that power in this timeous tale that still chimes in a society that has sadly changed little at core over time with charity continuing to being relied upon over public responsibility.
It’s easy to feel jaded when Christmas celebrations appear earlier each year with the garish cacophony of sounds and competing smells that seem so sharply at odds with the spirit of the season. Although this show opened before Advent, any sense of the fake and forced jollity generated by commercial displays elsewhere in the Capital is evaporated by this nuanced piece of theatre that manages the clever trick of being novel and traditional all at once.
Running Time: 2 hours with interval
24th – 31st December 2022