Illustration by Aleksandra Matkowska and Audrey Raynes
Rejoice, this Christmas themed romp will not force you to sit through another traditional Dickensian festive season. As hinted at in the extra ‘e’ at the end of ‘Carole’ this show will be no honest retelling of Dickens’ classic Christmas tale. Littered with musical numbers, rap battles and heaps of American twang, the only thing to expect is the unexpected. OULES’ (Oxford University’s Light Entertainment Society) production of ‘A Christmas Carole’ is a self-described parody of the Victorian original that shifts the focus from grumpy Scrooge to his initially insufferable niece, Carole (shock!), and will be a sure-fire way of making ‘the yuletide gay’ and all that. The premise is simple, the Scrooges (Carole and Ebenezer) must be taught the error of their festive ways by journeying into the latter’s past. While this is going on the Cratchit children attempt to save their father from working on Christmas Day. Matters are complicated by each group getting their own set of ghostly guides; Ebenezer maintains the ghosts of Christmas, Carole gains the ghosts of Holidays, and the Cratchits are chaotically led by the ghosts of X-mas (they’re Christmas but “cool”).
As with any instance of Christmas themed light entertainment, mischief ensues as the dream team of the reformed Scrooges, and the ghosts of Christmas and Holidays past, present and future must work together to thwart the positively Machiavellian Ghost of X-mas Past. Reforming the two problematic Scrooges becomes a side quest in the play. Although, it is enjoyable watching both Carole and Ebenezer come to face to in with mirror images of themselves; Carole in the excellently played Ghost of Christmas Present (jubilantly embodied by Megan Allbrooks), and Ebenezer in Jake Burton’s ‘The Boss’.
For such a relaxed production the script is incredibly good. Writer Lily Miles manages to create a specific tone for each character and a collective vibe for each group. The jokes also rarely fall flat. In many respects this is helped by those onstage, the likes of Paige Allen, our ‘festive’ American, and scene stealer Tom Vallely as the delightfully inexplicable Parisian Ghost of Christmas Future. Every dirty look, cigarette wafting gesticulation, and French scoff was perfect. However, if George Michael asked me who I would give my heart to this Christmas it would have to be offered up on a silver platter to the sublime narratorial duo of Jake Caudwell and Charlie Howley. They’re the perfect juxtaposition; one small, one tall; one traditional, one tongue-in-cheek; both incredible. The repartee between them that is peppered throughout the play provides a necessary comic relief.
This is not to say the play is morbid or intense in any way, however it is long. In many respects it is inexcusably long – yes I know A Christmas Carol is not a short jaunt through Victorian London but as a parody they could have easily adapted the length. In fairness, the length was not helped by adding in two extra ‘spiritual’ journeys, songs, and a narratorial side plot, however the depth of exposition was sometimes a little excessive. What was equally unnecessary was the play’s seeming self-awareness of its own ridiculousness. While it is comforting to know they were not taking themselves too seriously, this self-awareness was taken too far and veered into an annoying self-indulgence.
Throughout, ‘A Christmas Carole’ has a piano accompaniment that works to manage tone and enliven the audience. While Tobi Wedel was exceptional behind the piano some of the accompany singing was not what it could have been. Many voices got lost and could not match the size of the Corpus Christi Auditorium. However, Eliza Niblett and Phoebe Winter as Martha and Belinda Cratchit stood out well during the musical numbers. In general, the Cratchit children were some of the strongest of the cast as they naively blundered their way through the adult world. A musical moment to go down in amateur dramatic history has to be the Hamilton-inspired rap battle featured in the closing scenes. The reformed Scrooges take on the X-mas ghosts in the ultimate showdown (because what else would they do?). The record labels would call it questionable, but it was certainly an entertaining way of rounding off the performance.
This may not have been the most professional or polished production I have seen in Oxford, however, it certainly succeeded in providing an evening of incredible entertainment and festive cheer. By the end Carole realises being insufferable doesn’t work for anyone, Scrooges sees the errors of his miserly ways, the Cratchits get their perfect Christmas, the ghosts get a promotion and holiday leave, and the narrators fight off what I can only imagine is one hell of a hangover. I like to think that while concocting this Christmas spectacle the only thing that was kept in mind was, ‘what would Dickens loath?’, and whatever was concluded was done. Plus, any play that trash talks the Cherwell, not once but twice, is a winner in my book.