REVIEW: A Christmas Carol

The cleverness in Simon Magill and Tara Lynne O'Neill's adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, helmed by popular actor and first-time director Sean Kearns, is in the lengths everyone goes to make a classic distinctive. That being, points-of-view from both ends of the scale – Scrooge and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future measuring up what has been, what is, what they want to see and what will be in a colourful concoction of cracking Christmas complications.

That doesn't just apply to Christmas, but also to Christmas theatre. It can easily go unnoticed but the history of the MAC’s Christmas shows is one truly lovely detail in a vast collection of lovely details packed into Diana Ennis' set. Before the show begins we see posters of The Elves And The Shoemaker, Pinocchio and more projected onto the screens which will soon feature the faces of many a ghost. Our own past is being shown to us in the present as an indication of what's to come. How appropriate.

Right from the start, A Christmas Carol is lush and lavish in its staging and elegance, like a true event. Because it has to be. The holiday has taken on a meaning where the commercial and the creative, foundations and families, are near-impossible to tell apart. We can't make theatre without money, but we can't make money without theatre.

That, basically, is the focal point of the production, which positions Scrooge (Richard Croxford) as a theatre owner while his assistant Bobbie Cratchit (a charmingly maternal Molly Logan) and cheerful nephew Fred (a sprightly Darren Franklin) suffer. I say ‘suffer’ because the theatre is like a Pot Noodle enterprise to Mr. Bah, Humbug! – he’d like to break the building down into something more instantly successful, short-term, easy to swallow profiteering from apartments.

Anyone knows the consequences of this - if one doesn’t appreciate the true potential of foundations and continuously reshapes them into what they, and they alone, want them to be, we're left with something a little soulless. Ouch...

Cleverly, writers Magill and O'Neill have applied that mantra not only to Scrooge but also to the spirits who will come and visit him. Following the projected warning of Jacob Marley (Sean Kearns, in image only), we are presented with a series of ghosts who are just as, if perhaps not more, focused on stealing the spotlight than saving the day.

And what a collection of ghosts we have. As the French Scarlet, the fantastic Jolene O'Hara fully flaunts the characteristics of an operatic diva in equally hilarious and awesome ways. Maeve Byrne makes for a dominant and literally flatulent Ghost Of Christmas Present - when not adding heart to the show in her other roles as Nell and Belle, she's a gas (sorry, couldn't help it). And then there's the effervescently dynamic Maeve Smyth, in possibly her most physically expressive role to date as the Ghost Of Christmas Future. Not forgetting, of course, Jenny Coates' hobbling, heart-rending Tiny Tim - a professional stage debut to remember.

A Christmas Carol is as much an exhibition and celebration of theatrical talent as it is a story told, and told very well, around the changing whims and conversion of a passive, controlling figure. It is, indeed, Richard Croxford's show as much as anyone else's - his rather reserved portrayal of the central figure is actually chillingly reflective, a reminder of where being too sensible can take anyone. Why else is one of the best of Garth McConaghie's many show tunes entitled ‘Welcome To Our World Of Make Believe'? Wealth ought to be generated through kindness and creativity as much as image and success - for if you don't find the right balance, you may well lose the wonderful life you could have had. Forever. What a message - and what a show.

Simon Fallaha

A Christmas Carol runs at The MAC, Belfast, until January 5, 2020. For more information go to

Recent Theatre Reviews