Review: Scrooge and Marley

Ben Pope 21 November 2011

Scrooge and Marley

ADC Lateshow, 11pm, until Sat 12th Nov

There are issues with this show and in a Scrooge-like manner I’d like to get them out of the way first but only so that I have sufficient space to extol its virtues in full later.

My first quibble is with the character changes. Given that this performance emphasises the presence of its two sole actors, all the characters (with the exception of a deathly Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come) are played by the two leads. One might therefore have hoped that the character changes could have been smoother to give the piece a little more ethereal fluidity. Occasionally these were well-disguised, behind a chair or dipping offstage, but often Marley would just return to the coffin costume box upstage to withdraw yet another clumsily administered vestment. I felt more could have been done with the otherwise very impressive lights or dry ice to conceal these conceits.

Secondly, the plot. While we can’t deduct points for Dickens’ storyline, the adaptation (made by Marley himself, James Swanton) can be criticised. My main bugbear here is the choice to eliminate the beginning of the story and enter just before Scrooge is haunted by the four ghosts. While this gave an atmospheric beginning to the show, it didn’t give us enough material to hold against Scrooge – no stingy clerk-bashing, for example. Subsequently, the main journey that Scrooge goes on didn’t feel like much of a change at all, which somewhat crippled the intentions of the plot.

However (a BIG however), I thoroughly enjoyed myself. George Potts was effortlessly funny, whilst capturing Scrooge’s sneering pessimism and eventual unbridled joy. With a judiciously employed Scottish accent, he gathered the funnies out of unpredictable spots, milking laughs out of facial expressions, unfinished sentences, muttered afterwards and unintelligible noises. He also excelled as his other minor characters, the falsetto rendition of Once in Royal David’s City given by Tiny Tim being one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

The play was made though, by James Swanton – in both senses. Yes, Swanton adapted the material, but his performance too was magnetic. While Potts’ caricatures were highly amusing, Swanton gave the feeling that we were all in the presence of a pro. His characterisation for each spirit (Past – small and scholarly, Present – massive and jovial, Marley – devious but pained) was immaculate, whilst his other characters too were thoroughly convincing (the old woman selling Scrooge’s bed sheets was particularly disturbing). Each exaggerated facial expression and vocal inflection was perfectly placed for each scenario. I was hooked.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening’s entertainment – the atmospheric lights and sounds, a set that was magisterially Victorian but shaded and creepy, and an adaptation that made excellent use of the stage and material with extracts read in Swanton’s sonorous, expressive voice being particularly memorable. There were a few undeniable flaws, but this timeless story’s comedy and poignancy was captured with zeal.

Ben Pope