Theatre Review: A Christmas Carol - Lamb & Lion, York ✭✭✭✭✭

A Christmas Carol
John Holt-Roberts as Jacob Marley
Ed Wren as Ebenezer Scrooge
Photo by Dublinstones Photography
The Flanagan Collective
Lamb & Lion - York
Written by Alexander Wright
Directed by Tom Bellerby

Review by James Eaglesfield

A noted scholar once said “I wish it could be Christmas everyday” and if this is what Christmas brings then I tend to agree. The Flanagan Collective’s re-interpretation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is not so much a piece of the theatre than it is an heart-warming event.

If you want to get in to the Christmas spirit but don’t fancy battling with the hoards of children at the panto or if you struggle to get your other half to leave the pub then this is for you. The magic of Christmas is here in abundance, but not in a saccharine sweet way, and best of all it is performed in York’s Lamb & Lion public house where you are kept both fed and watered.

Setting this famous tale in a pub is completely appropriate as it is a story featuring two kinds of spirits – the ethereal spirits and the high spirits of Christmas. Here those are joined by a few more in the optics.
From the moment we meet Ebenezer Scrooge at the front door of his home (yes, the action starts in the streets of York) we do not find a character that we have any ill feelings toward – we pity him and are here to help.  We, a small group of around 20, are here to celebrate Christmas with the festivities led by Scrooge’s ex-partner Jacob Marley (deceased) and we want the old miser to join us.
Stripped back to the essentials, the action is carried out by just two actors – John Holt Roberts as Marley and Ed Wren as Scrooge. Once indoors, the audience is kept snug in the Upper Parlour of the Lamb & Lion which is, for tonight, Scrooge’s front room. The room lends its own character to proceedings, creating the perfect atmosphere for what unfurls through the best part of 2 hours, especially as the spiced scent of mulled wine fills the air.  There is no fancy lighting, no pyrotechnics and Marley does not have a single touch of grey make-up to symbolise his deathly state.  It is the simplicity of it all that creates the magic; the true feeling of Christmas.

John Holt-Roberts as Jacob Marley
Ed Wren as Ebenezer Scrooge
Photo by Dublinstones Photography
Both Holt Roberts and Wren are exceptional.  They keep the action going, improvise as required and really connect with both the story and the audience.  Their skills bring us in to the heart of Scrooge’s parlour and to the heart of Christmas, with a number of laughs along the way.

The audience are a key part of events, here to help Marley defrost Scrooge’s frozen, withered heart.  And the best way to do that?  Singing of course.  Following a few failed attempts to raise the spirits by a couple of carols and Marley showing Scrooge his past, it is time for Christmas present to kick in.  It is at this point that food is served and mulled wine is poured by our begrudging host, Ebenezer.   The food is simple but tasty.  Served on platters rather than individual plates, the audience are invited to move around the room, socialise with each other and generally have a good time. 

More singing ensues followed by quick game of Victorian Who Am I?.  Marley leads proceedings as Scrooge begins to join in, looking like a child discovering a pure joy (mixed with a little bit of Mr Bean).  Audience involvement is essential but it is carried out in a gentle way; you do not have to do anything you don’t want to.  But as the strumming of the guitar gets stronger, you can’t help but clap along, stamp your feet and let your lungs have a work out.

This is not a traditional presentation by any means - the songs you sing include Walking In The Air played at high tempo with a slight style Flamenco riff – but at its core are all the values of the original story and Scrooge does wear a night shirt of course.

This production deserves its 5 stars simply for the feeling you take with you as you head back home. You’ve haven’t just seen a show, you’ve spent a few hours with some friends and had a great time.  If you go alone you will be welcomed in to the circle of new friends, but if you can share this wonderful experience with someone special then even better.  Ideally take a group of friends and family with you.  I could think of few things nicer than to get a group of 20 close friends and family together and spend a couple of hours in the company of Marley and Scrooge.

But why does this only happen at Christmas? Hopefully our new friends, the Flanagan Collective, will invite us around for a BBQ, theatre and songs sometime in the summer.

5 stars ✭✭✭✭✭

Listings Information
15th-30th Dec - The Lamb & Lion York