Review: A Christmas Carol, Pateley Bridge Playhouse

The cast give a joyful 'Wassail!' at the end of A Christmas Carol by Pateley Bridge Dramatic Society. Photo by Chris Iredale.
The cast give a joyful 'Wassail!' at the end of A Christmas Carol by Pateley Bridge Dramatic Society. Photo by Chris Iredale.

Christmas spirit and celebration have come once again to Pateley Playhouse in Nevin Ward’s joyful musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, presented by the Pateley Bridge Dramatic Society.

With expressions of love and mutual support going straight to the heart, it brings a dramatic and musical sense to our ideas of happiness and hope for a better future.

The well-known tale, with its Christian themes of transformation and redemption, is given a popular turn by the singing of local carols, with words relevant to the play’s text and story development. From the opening Nowell and Nowell there is emphasis on the communal nature of the songs, as one caroller on stage is gradually joined by others to form a large carol-singing group with audience participation.

The frozen-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge is played by Peter Buller in a finely calibrated performance, his better nature all creased and withered. The moralising carol Christmas Is Now Drawing Near At Hand, much sung in the past by beggars at seasonal fairs and here movingly sung by Brenna Smith, is used to give sharp profile to his mean and parsimonious nature. Jaxom Smith plays Child Scrooge in school with a touching naivety and newcomer Tom Jansen as Young Scrooge demonstrates the miserly passion that has taken root.

Keith Burton, brilliantly infernal as Marley’s Ghost with clanking chains, plays him as having a moral concern for charity, mercy and benevolence. The three Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come, played by the nostalgic Christine Ward, the jovial Jerry Harvey and the eerie Jo Jefferson, haunt Scrooge with his unhappy past, and show him a present in which the long-suffering Cratchits endure their losses but stay big-hearted. In contrast, there lies before him his own inevitably bleak future in the deserted graveyard.

The dialogue sits well. The scene between Young Scrooge and Belle, touchingly played by Heather Appleton, comes across as elegiac and emotionally strong. Nevin Ward and Linda Harvey as Mr and Mrs Fezziwig are infinitely hospitable, with the carol The Season of Holly and Ivy and the lively dance that follows emphasising the merriment of their Christmas Ball.

The Christmas scene at the Cratchits is full of good cheer, an affectionate family atmosphere created as much by the singing of the ancient Cherry Tree Carol as by the warm performances of Steve Rouse and Rachel Smith as Bob and Mrs Cratchit. And their humble meal is given grandeur and importance by the full-on four part harmony of the old Christmas Goose carol.

When Scrooge’s health is drunk and Tiny Tim, represented with aplomb by Callum Bruce, pipes up: “God bless us everyone,” the very pitch of magnanimity is reached. This feeling of good fellowship carries over into the terrific party at Nephew Fred’s house, where we all join in the hilarious fun of “Under the Mistletoe” led by the exuberant Carol Bailey.

There are wonderful costumes for over 100 characters, skilfully designed and made by Christine Ward – including a stunning outfit for the Ghost of Christmas Present, carrying a holly berry crown and glowing staff. Sue Hickson’s evocative video and image projection on to a back screen offers scenes of past and present possibilities, and there are superb staging and sound effects by the Playhouse team under Stan Appleton. The production has a talented cast in many different parts, acting, singing and playing instruments, and there are lots of voices to give variety to roles.

Is it impossible to redeem the past? Scrooge is offered the opportunity to become a better man and make other people happier. As his redemption begins, the carol singers give vent to a fabulous tune with a glorious rolling bass line in the well-known words of Charles Wesley’s Three Harks (Hark the Herald Angels Sing) - a fine example of the South Yorkshire/ North Derbyshire tradition of setting familiar carol words to lesser-known tunes. The singing throughout is just wonderful.

Scrooge’s heart melts with compassion and he learns to be the good master, the good friend, the good man. The lovely carol Peace o’er the World is given full voice to celebrate his reconciliation, with the final verse proclaiming the Christmas message: “Let trumpets sound and hail His royal birth, For Christ the King is come to reign on earth”.

The tradition of Christmas, Christian kindness and the explosion of goodwill illuminated by the flames of punch and by the communal singing, the ghosts given a kind of holiday at the winter solstice - all are combined into a brilliant mix of music and song, dance and good fellowship, concluding in the great Wassail Wassail. This is A Christmas Carol which truly celebrates Christmas.