Tim Bell, General Manager at Lancaster House has been enjoying the spirit of the festive season in Lancaster.
In the ten years I’ve been here in Lancaster, I’ve watched with keen interest and excitement as the cultural scene and identity of our historic city has flourished. From a noticeable and admirable level of the arts back in 2003, it’s accelerated to a thriving music and theatre scene here in 2013 gaining national recognition and well-deserved accolades.
Without doubt, one of the catalysts and leading lights of this cultural surge has been The Dukes Playhouse. Established in 1971, the converted old church now has 3 unique theatres under its roof all complemented by the popular Gallery and bustling Café Bar. The Dukes has of course gained much of their national recognition for their annual Play in the Park which has been running for over 25 years and is now the UK’s biggest walkabout theatre show. We’ve been proud to co-sponsor this production over the last few years and even more proud that we’ve helped introduce some new fans to this national institution through our theatre breaks.
But as this is currently mid-winter, and of course the festive season to boot, it was the warm and cosy surroundings of “The Round” that I was to take my seat with the family for their latest production.
And what better play for this time of year than the classic Dickens tale “A Christmas Carol”. Without doubt, my favourite story of all time. Having been introduced to the book as compulsory reading whilst at school in Penrith, I’ve since been a huge fan of all the film productions over the years. From Alistair Sim’s classic portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in 1951, George C Scott’s memorable performance in the 1984 version, and even The Muppets Christmas Carol remains one of my favourite festive “Must Watch Films”. So, whilst lavish reproductions of London Streets were never going to be possible in a small theatre in Lancaster, I was still hoping the depth and subsequent timeless lessons of this tale would come out powerfully in the show.
And as usual, the Dukes didn’t disappoint. Coronation Street writer Debbie Oates has given a wickedly funny northern twist to her adaptation, from the geographical references right through to the hilariously emphasised Lancashire accents and dialect which hammer home the uniqueness of the Lancastrian sense of humour. The cast of 6 change quickly and seamlessly to ensure that no part of the original story is sidelined, coupled with some stunning costumes, visual effects and sound. The laughs are regular, but not too much that it potentially risks nudging the play towards the brand of “pantomime”.
There are several great musical numbers in there too, but again these are wonderfully complementary and do not detract from the heart-warming story of goodwill. The famous role of Tiny Tim is even given an original and heart-felt twist, but to elaborate further on this would surely spoil the effect for you. I say no more!
Without exception, the cast perform to a standard befitting of any respected stage, but I must single out the casting and acting of Gareth Cassidy in the lead role of Scrooge. An inspired choice, and a more convincing Ebenezer you’d be hard pressed to find. I’m sure Dickens’s himself, on the 170th anniversary of the first published book of The Christmas Carol would be proud that his most famous creation had been so exquisitely and accurately portrayed.
The Christmas Carol runs until the 4th of January 2014.