As we each wonder what our ‘new normal’ might be, and returning to the theatre is something so welcomed, but -oddly -so strange, there is something so absolute in feeling reassured that returning to the Sherman Theatre for A Christmas Carol is not only appreciated but very much welcomed.
From stepping through the doors, the precautionary measures are reassuring. We’re back, but we know where we’ve been. And from the moment you step into the main house- oh yes, Christmas at the Sherman Theatre is back. Like a cwtch, the all-embracing warmth, bringing you in to Gareth Wyn Griffiths’ glorious ambience- this is Christmas, Cardiff style.
And of course, as the music seeps into your psyche, so your senses are alerted to Hayley Grindle’s Cardiff setting. From the Workhouse that my primary school aged children have learned about at school (and maybe let the rest of the audience know, in their own version of stage whispers), to the intricate housing design of Newtown which left my secondary school child in awe.
The boys were most impressed by Andy Pike’s lighting design- the Bah Humbug being checked throughout the performance to ensure it did light up. Seren questioning how so many of the tricks of lighting came to the stage, from the moment Ebenezer Scooge’s silhouette graced the stage. And, of course, all were amazed by how this ensemble could pick up instruments and use their voices to bring so much to life.
I feel like I’ve already skipped so much.
For this is a snapshot of the sensory explosion created from Gary Owen’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol in Joe Murphy’s first main house show as Artistic Director. There is darkness in the tale, but through deft handling of humour and kindness, this is very much a family production.
Importantly, in values enshrined by the Sherman Theatre, there is the beauty of home in this adaptation. The drops of Cardiff interwoven in the words. At a time when Seren is understand more about the areas of Cardiff, as Tom and Seb find Welsh is ‘of them’. So the moments were magical- some because they were absorbed, some because of the light bulbs switching on. And these moments were made because of the actors and musicians which compelled us into our spellbound state.
In this Christmas Carol, Ebenezer is Ebbie, played by Hannah McPake. My heart was wary. One of the last productions I saw before lockdown was A Christmas Carol at Wilton’s Music Hall, which I loved, and have held onto for so long. But oh, fear not. Nothing you have seen before will be taken away, but everything is made in the Sherman’s adaptation. Whilst my children might have broadly been able to recall Dickens’ tale- I fear for any teacher in the future who asks them for their take.
Back in 1843, Ebenezer is, of course, rich. If you failed to note, she’s topped the Times rich list for the last seven years. But with her wealth comes mean. The mean caused by nurture, the loss of family, the mindset created in the workhouse and brought into adulthood. McPake is as awesome as ever.
In Ebenezer Scrooge there is fear. McPake as Ebenezer is scary, compelling and almost there as the villain. But never complete. Fortunately for the young audience, there is enough in her character to see that a glimpse of hidden warmth. Whether it be in the love for her mother and her Beau in Christmas past, or of the inability not to fall for the comic genius of Christmas present, or that no-one can really be happy alone in Christmas future. There is a glimmer of hope.
And, as the storyline goes, the hope is inched towards through Dickens’ three ghosts. In Cardiff, these are embraced by Kizzy Crawford, Seiriol Davies, and Kieron Self. In each, Joe Murphy’s plays to strengths and individuality. From pure, to unique, to out of this world, the stage is transformed beyond its space. Reeling you in to test your reality feels apt, testing the young audience and adults alike. And, with such success, if theatre is made to stretch the boundaries of your imagination, the Sherman is a good place to be.
With this, comes the underpinning of Lucy Rivers’ score. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from ‘Sinner’s Club’ and, as a family-friendly offer, the music of ‘A Christmas Carol’ is as embracing. Whilst McPake’s ‘Spirit Slayer Scrooge’ is the one which has stayed with us as a ‘rock-out, it was the culmination of a score which enhances the story thoughout.
And, in noting banging tunes, I can’t bring myself to offer any spoilers in Seiriol Davies’ interpretation of The Ghost of Christmas Present. “Cowin’ lush” probably does cover it. And what I am grateful for is that my children may never have seen ‘How to Win Against History’ or ‘The Messenger’ (because they’re aged 10 and 12), but oh my goodness, that they completely relate is an absolute joy.
What brings so much happiness in going to the theatre is what you leave with. Notwithstanding my daughter’s love for the raspberry lemonade which we’ve only found at the Sherman’s bar…
When we woke up this morning, I was left holding onto Cardiff moments and Lucy Rivers’ score. Seb was still deeply appreciative of Christmas Present and the Baubles. For Seren, it was Rachel Canning’s puppetry of Christmas Future and Gareth Wyn Griffiths in bringing the music to the stage. For Tom, it was Timmy- the puppetry and because he lived.
So, just yes. It’s an all-round recommendation: if you’re thinking about getting to the theatre this Christmas, if you’re concerned about going back to a bigger space but you’re missing the theatre, if you need some Christmas magic because it’s just all a bit too mundane- A Christmas Carol gives so much back.
And, if you want to have a glimpse of the difference magical theatre makes at Christmas- find a child aged 7+ (with parental permission) and take them- it will make your world a better place.
A Christmas Carol is showing at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff until 31st December 2021. Find out more and book tickets here.
Disclosure: We were invited to the Sherman Theatre for the purpose of this review. All opinions shared are our own.