Theatre Review: A Christmas Carol (Citizens Theatre, Glasgow)

This review first appeared on TV Bomb on 10th December 2014

In the age of persistent attention-stealing screens, invasive advertising and excessively gaudy special effects, it seems ever more implausible that a couple of folk on a stage with a few instruments and some fake snow could grasp a child’s attention and imagination for more than five minutes. Dominic Hill’s wonderful A Christmas Carol raises the bar and proves that you don’t need to bombard an audience’s senses in order to maintain intrigue. It is a show to remind you both of the magical powers of theatre, and of the true spirit of Christmas.

Everything that we have come to expect of a Dominic Hill production is here from the get-go. As you enter the auditorium, the cast, waving and welcoming, greet you with some gentle Christmas carols. Nikola Kodjabashia’s arrangement of voices and instruments is as inventive and charming as ever, verified by the array of little voices chiming in from the stalls, merrily joining in with the playful bongs of Big Ben.  Cliff Burnett leads as a particularly miserly Scrooge: not your classic panto baddy, but more of a misanthropic Father Jack(minus alcoholism and plus a whole lot of sadness). The rest of the cast is equally as strong, supported by some finely choreographed flourishes from movement directors Benedicte Seierup and Lucien MacDougall.

Though there are some token pantomime elements here – a bit of cross-dressing and a hearty sing-along – this is truly the definition of Christmas theatre. It has plenty of gasp-inducing moments for little ones – the ghosts of Christmases past and future are wickedly creepy puppets crafted by designer Rachel Canning, and ectoplasmic spirits soar through the auditorium – but us older souls will find much to savour too. Adults who yearn for Christmas to mean something more than endless spending will be rewarded with a slice of perfect Dickensian festivity. Everything about this show is a Christmas dream that simply left me wanting more.

Advertisements

Theatre Review: Homecoming, Station Stories (Glasgow Queen Street Station)

This review was first published on TV Bomb on 8th December 2014

Acclaimed artist and Cryptic Associate Sven Werner has created this immersive installation as part of the closing celebrations for Homecoming Scotland 2014. Described as a Victorian world in miniature, participants spend five minutes or so peering through vintage viewfinders, separated from the crowd by a black cloth draped over the shoulders.

The two tiny installations – one a snowy cottage, and the other a lonely train carriage slowly trundling along – are charming, and have been constructed with a huge amount of affection. The set is aesthetically delicious: stacks of suitcases, timeworn leather benches, and old cameras on wooden tripods. It looks as though it has organically grown out of travel detritus, although the actual placing of it within the station is odd. Pressed up against the ticket barriers, it acts like a rock in a river when waves of commuters swarm through the gates. It is very brightly exposed and centralized, which means that the bold act of engaging with the unknown requires a little more bravery. The stories themselves are curious beasts: tales of departure and arrival and all that’s in between, relayed in a softly American drawl – truly a voice to get lost in. The content itself is slightly less engaging. Perhaps ‘magic’ is a subjective concept, but instead of feeling transported away by the narrative, I felt very still and static.

And this is where the problem lies; the beauty of successful immersive theatre events is the ability to forget time and lose yourself in the experience, whereas Station Stories makes the participant hyper-aware of passing moments. Every few minutes, the familiar chirrups of the Scotrail lady announcing the latest delays pervade the space, and the shadows of passing footfall can prove distracting. The isolation isn’t isolated enough to allow you to feel transported, so instead you become conspicuously aware. On paper, Homecoming: Station Stories ticks a lot of boxes for me – I’m not ashamed to admit my all-encompassing love for trains, Victoriana, and story-telling – but sadly the installation failed to move me.