There’s one important truth at the heart of Tony Cownie’s new Edinburgh version of A Christmas Carol; and that’s the fact that, in Scotland, the celebration of Christmas was banned outright for more than a hundred years after our profoundly radical Presbyterian revolution of the late 16th century, and slightly frowned upon for more than two centuries after that – so much so that, as Scrooge mentions towards the end of the show, it was 1958 before Christmas became an official public holiday in Scotland.
An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, Lyceum, Edinburgh ****
There’s a world of difference, of course, between a whole society rejecting a traditional religious calendar as part of a social revolution, and Dickens’ story of one man so wedded to the love of money that he cannot bring himself to reach out in love and charity even at Christmas. Yet it’s one of the joys of Cownie’s bold and rowdy adaptation that it never lets this basic mismatch deflect it from exploiting the full comic and dramatic potential of the story, even if it sometimes slightly diminishes the moral and sentimental force of Scrooge’s personal journey from miserly misery to generosity and joy.
So the curtain rises on an image, by designer Neil Murray, of Edinburgh Castle towering over the Old Town. The story is greatly enlivened by a narrative subplot involving Greyfriars Bobby, a lovable mutt (puppet by Edie Edmundson) at risk of extermination by the council dog-catcher for not having a licence. And there’s also plenty of fun to be had at the expense of the local constabulary, eloquently played by Grant O’Rourke, as they half-heartedly pursue carol singers through the streets for breaking Edinburgh’s anti-Christmas by-laws.
At the heart of the show, though, stands Crawford Logan’s beautifully pitched tragicomic performance as an all-too-recognisable Scottish Scrooge, hiding a fundamental meanness of spirit behind a cloak of social respectability, and haunted by three unusually amusing ghosts, notably Steven McNicoll’s big red-haired Highlander representing Christmas “Nouadays”And thanks to some superb work by the rest of the 12-strong cast – including Ewan Donald in moving form as Bob Cratchit, Eva Traynor as Mary Cratchit and Christmas Lang Syne, another superb Edmundson puppet as Tiny Tim, and an inspired Nicola Roy as Scrooge’s long-suffering housekeeper Mrs Bigchin – this hugely entertaining version of one of the world’s greatest Christmas stories whirls its way to a beautifully staged conclusion; in a show that forces the idea of an Edinburgh Scrooge to its limits, but uses that culture clash to strike some brilliant sparks of comic inspiration along the way. Joyce McMillan
Until 4 January