A Christmas Carol

Gareth Cassidy as Scrooge at the Dukes in Lancaster

Gareth Cassidy as Scrooge at the Dukes in Lancaster

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Dukes Theatre, Lancaster

Several ‘actual’ ghosts from Lancaster’s own past haunt this splendidly-spirited production, never mind the three served up in the Charles Dickens’ original.

Their illuminated gravestones guide you towards the theatre space. Most notably that of Mary Holden, the last woman hanged in the city’s castle in 1834.

By upping the ghost quota writer Debbie Oates broadens out the story – in the same way she so artfully anchored Treasure Island to Lancaster last year.

Oates is a seasoned TV writer and it shows in her ability to pitch her story-telling at an audience that necessarily represents the widest cross section of ages.

This time she turns the salvation of the old skinflint Scrooge into one of those more standard seasonal quests, for a magic lamp or a crystal slipper.

Nothing of the original Christmas morality message is lost however, and in a little over two hours it is quite remarkable just how much more is added.

And that includes a Tiny flatulent Tim and an expectorating rodent!

Director Joe Sumsion, designer Alison Heffernan and a six-strong cast delivering nearly 30 characters also throw in fabulously inventive puppetry, physical comedy, eye-popping magic tricks, lusty music, and even a snowball fight with their delighted audience.

All performed in a square studio space smaller than some celebrity dressing rooms.

As Scrooge, Gareth Cassidy seems almost bent into the confines, but it gives him another heaven-sent opportunity to indulge his gifts for physical theatre and facial gurning.

Shelley Atkinson, Josh Darcy, Jessica Guide, Charlotte Workman and Liam Gerrard are all equally adept, dropping in and out of their many roles, and the latter also deserves special mention for both devising the show’s illusions and displaying them to best effect in such close-up surrounds.

Like the aforementioned Treasure Island this kind of creative take on seasonal storytelling deserves to be franchised nationally.

Meantime say you saw it here first, before January 4.

David Upton