views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

A Christmas Carol
Etcetera Theatre
17th December 2013


Martin Prest in A Christmas Carol

Photography © Elinor O'Leary.

Whether it's at the very beginning of December, or not until the 25th itself, everyone has a tradition which signifies the start of Christmas. A mad dash up and down Oxford Street trying to find the perfect present for the relative you inevitably forgot, opening your first advent calendar window - maybe reading a spot of Dickens. A Christmas Carol does have its fair share of melancholy, but as a tale of redemption, it's also a jolly little tale in its own way, and one which will get you in the festive spirit.

When an old miser by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge undertakes to spend his Christmas in his traditional way - alone and grumpily - the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley, comes to warn him to change his ways. Spoiler alert, he does, thanks to the intervention of three other ghosts, Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.

It's a story well known and well-loved by many, but perhaps its greatest fan is Martin Prest. He has taken A Christmas Carol and adapted it into a one-man-show with distinctly limited bells and whistles, keeping it pared back and classic. Prest not only plays the narrator himself, but also every single character, and he does this with lightening speed. Even if you don't blink, chances are you'll miss the transition.

Martin Prest in A Christmas Carol

Photography © Elinor O'Leary.

Prest has a real gift for voicework, but he goes further than this, changing his posture completely to give the illusion of being a different caricature each time. And that's what they are - Scrooge is overwhelmingly grumpy, his nephew ridiculously cheery. There's a lot of comedy in the show, perhaps to the point of oversimplifying the characters, but this is nothing that Walt Disney isn't also guilty of.

A Christmas Carol is a classic staging of Dickens' work. It's been tweaked slightly to suit the live medium, and to fit into a one-hour slot. Nonetheless, it's very recognisable. If the show has a weakness, it's in the direction. Prest is a fantastic performer, very versatile and convincing, but in terms of the bigger picture, there's no sound design and the use of light effects is minimal. The spotlight at the end nicely rounds off the piece, but a touch more thought on the tech side would be very welcome.

The Etcetera is a sanctuary for experimental fringe theatre, but A Christmas Carol is unashamedly old-school. This is no bad thing - Prest has clearly taken an old masterpiece, lovingly dusted it off and restored it for public viewing, and done so with real craftsmanship. He's a natural storyteller, and has the charisma to make 60 minutes of just him, just compelling. Undoubtedly a festive treat, do make time to see Prest in action.

A Christmas Carol ran from 17th to 22nd December 2013 at the Etcetera Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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