A two-man Christmas Carol might seem a bit of a gimmicky thing, especially when the famous film and musical versions rely on large casts to create the bustle of Dickensian London. But once Mark Smith and Lewis Bray get into action, the idea works remarkably well.
Fans of Spike Theatre’s work will recognise some familiar props and puppets from previous productions, which although done out of necessity ends up also being a rather sweet tribute to the company’s body of work so far.
Smith plays Scrooge, while Bray is a real delight as, well, everybody else in the classic tale. Cramming the story into just an hour (which is easy enough to do when there’s only two of you), the company’s trademark combination of storytelling, puppetry, clowning and the odd bit of improvisation made for a hugely enjoyable show, sometimes funny, sometimes scary and sometimes strangely moving.
Highlights included the entrance of Marley, with a portrait on the wall being used to particularly good effect; the entrance of Tiny Tim, which reused the cute small prop body trick as seen in last year’s Spike show The Games; and the camping up of the hedonistic Ghost of Christmas Present was great fun.
Smith’s occasional breaks from Scrooge into the story’s narrator worked nicely and showed a performer comfortable in front of an audience and good company; and Bray’s versatility was impressive.
Directed by John Garfield-Roberts, this production of A Christmas Carol is something of a trial run for what is likely to become a bigger show in future, and it was important not only as a warm and witty piece of seasonal entertainment, but as a reminder that professional theatre companies like Spike still have fight in them; a determination and drive to keep making art and taking it to people even in the face of near complete budget cuts. And that is something very special and very admirable indeed.
You can catch the show at the Lantern Theatre until Monday (December 10).