The spirit of Christmas

A Christmas Carol – The Old Red Lion, until 03 January 2015 (tickets)

‘Humbug’. The modern lexicon creatively being employed by the youth of today means it’s a word that sits on the milder end of the spectrum. Yet, tellingly, for many it retains a special power; it’s A Christmas Carol, Old Red Lion, courtesy of Anna Söderblom,11indelibly linked with one man and one situation. To tell someone they are a humbug is to accuse them of hating Christmas – a damning indictment indeed.

Dickens’ story is so powerful that it has forced a character into their own existence. Scrooge. A creation so potent that his very name became synonymous with being a miser. It is a very simple story – of one man’s redemption over the course of one fantastical night – that has held a grip over the imagination since it was written. Each generation has their own favourite; whether it was read to them at Christmas, seeing Alistair Sims in black and white hunched around the TV or going to the cinema to watch the Muppets.

Metal Rabbit are one of three companies performing A Christmas Carol in London this winter. If you are after lashings of period detail then Antic Disposition’s version in the fabulous surroundings of Middle Temple Hall may be more to your preference, however Metal Rabbit provides a stripped down updating that consciously nods as much towards modern Britain as it does the slum-like conditions that Dickens captured so well.

Alexander McMorran’s Scrooge is, quite literally, at the centre of this production; he spends much of the play standing centre-stage on a safe (that neatly doubles as a gravestone). It is an arresting opening image that is enhanced by McMorran rhythmically clinking a chain to hint at the miser counting his money but also inescapably leading the subconscious to the ticking of a clock that governs the passage of time over this fantastical night.

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If life gives you lemons, make monologues

The Me Plays – The Old Red Lion Theatre, until 20 September 2014 (Tickets)

Filed by our roving reviewer, Emily Howe

Written and performed by Andrew Maddock, The Me Plays are a couple of self-penned, semi-autobiographical monologues, currently showing at The Old Red Lion. The space is perfect for the piece; intimate yet with a buzz to it, and it certainly helps that this little theatre is sold-out for tonight’s show.

Maddock is bursting with energy and self-deprecating humour. Both of his monologues are directly addressed to the audience in a brave performance where (although I don’t know with any surety how much of the content wasAndrew Maddock, photo by Hannah Ellis Photography true or how much fiction) it feels like he is opening his life up for us to see.

The first of the two pieces, “Junkie”, describes Me’s modern life in the digital-age, and seems to be aimed more towards the men in the audience. Covering Tinder, internet-porn, facebook and pill-popping, its message is that there is a declining need in us to make real connections with the rest of humanity, as we can so easily find what we need online. Me is comforted by the safe, virtual atmosphere of the internet which allows him to switch off when he gets bored, and where there is no chance of rejection and pain.

In the second play of the evening, “Hi Life, I Win”, Me is in hospital and is nostalgically re-living his formative years for us; reminiscing about his school-life, discovering weed for the first-time, being shipped off to a Catholic camp, and the death of his beloved grandad, amongst other very personal moments. Interspersed with his present-day situation in hospital, this is a much more personal journey than “Junkie”, but the experiences that Maddox shares with us, although engaging, were too unique to the writer for me to be able to wholly relate to.

The direction in the first play was clear and consistent; nice use was made of the interesting set and lighting, and the audience believed in the different scenes that were played out in various locations of the set. The second play seemed less slick and was perhaps too static for a stage performance. Although some of the emotional instances were a bit clunky and overly sign-posted, there were also some lovely, subtly-nuanced melancholic moments, particularly during the end of the first play.

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To absent friends

The Picture of John Gray – Old Red Lion Theatre, until 30 August (Tickets)

There are some historical figures that give out a siren’s call to literary types, luring them in and then dashing their hopes of genius on the rocks of their own creativity. Shakespeare, Marlowe and Byron have long drawn in The Picture of John Gray 15, Miriam Mahonythe unwary who believe they can find their own light mirrored in the brilliance of others.

Oscar Wilde is another who appears a figure ripe for drama, whose life can be used to both illuminate his own age and reflect upon our own. The problem with Oscar is that he is a man who created such a complete character of himself – set down in his writings and in the aphorisms that survive him – that anyone attempting to write about him needs to be able to match Wilde’s own wit or appear a pale imitation.

The Picture of John Gray – a neat subversion of Wilde’s novel – has perhaps taken heed of the problems that Wilde’s formidable wit poses and tackles the subject at an oblique angle. C.J Wilmann’s play skilfully tells us something about Wilde without the man ever appearing; instead we hear the voices of his associates and as we learn about them, we see Wilde from a new perspective.

It is a play with an Oscar Wilde shaped hole in the middle. It is a bold decision that runs the risk of creating a personality vacuum at its centre – like rewriting Hamlet and focusing entirely on Horatio, Laertes and Ophelia. However it makes the point through his absence that their lives – John Gray, Bosie and all – are, whether they like it or not, indeed whether they particularly care for him or not, irrevocably shaped by him.

Wilmann succeeds in demonstrating some of Wilde’s charismatic force without him ever being present. His personality is what holds them together and they continue to revolve around it and, terribly, it is what pulls them apart. The destruction of Wilde destroys something in each of them and forces their transformation.

Wilde is akin to a tropical storm – exotic, sublime and hypnotic- and they are caught in its eye. The innocent optimism that comes from the still landscape – captured in Bosie’s poem of the love that dare not speak its name – is but a shimmering mirage and too late do they realise the impossibility of escaping the destruction that Wilde has brought upon them.

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