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Review: A Christmas Carol at The Watermill

A Christmas Carol__Watermill_Pete Ashmore and Tilly-Mae Milbrook_Pamela Raith Photography

A socially distanced Scrooge at The Watermill Theatre in Berkshire brought to life by just two actors and a festive feast of creativity.

A Christmas Carol__Watermill_Pete Ashmore and Tilly-Mae Milbrook_Pamela Raith Photography
Image: Pamela Raith

The show must go on and just in time for Christmas! The Watermill Theatre in Bagnor always stages a bookish festive show – and this year it’s Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. God it felt good to be back – even though many of the seats cannot be sold, each one dramatically bound in a red ribbon and tied in a bow. The spectre of Covid is ever present, as we sit in our masks to watch this live performance as the actors remain 2m apart.

But if there ever was a story made for a Christmas in the time of Covid it is this Dicken’s classic. A tale that shines a light on our hopes, fears and Scrooge’s socially distanced meanness – all performed by two, yes just two actors. How I hear you cry?

A Christmas Carol_Watermill_Pete Ashmore and Tilly-Mae Milbrook_Pamela Raith Photography

Well, director Georgie Staight went and got herself a pair of multi-talented actor/musicians – Peter Ashmore and Tilly-Mae Millbrook – and they brought to life Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, his wife Annie, Tiny Tim, Scrooge’s nephew, a couple or local businessmen and the three visiting ghosts.

Right from the start the eerie atmosphere of Victorian London was conjured up using sound, lighting and a minimal set. A brick wall, the clothes of porr families hanging on the line in the street and Scrooge’s desk in the middle of the stage. The figure of Ashmore appears on the dimly lit stage playing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen on his fiddle, and then Millbrook glides out of the darkness, carrying a lit candle to her face.

A Christmas Carol__Watermill_Pete Ashmore and Tilly-Mae Milbrook_Pamela Raith Photography

This is a production that hangs on the skill of the actors to convince their audience that a coat, hat or scarf can embody the character they have become at the blink of an eye. They do and it’s captivating to watch. The minute Ashmore cloaks himself in the Scrooge’s black frock coat he becomes mean, dark and miserly. In contrast, Millbrook’s cheerful yellow-checked waistcoat denotes her narrator and when she wraps herself in Cratchit’s long shabby scarf she embodies the long-suffering, kindhearted Bob.

How do they portray the ghosts? Now that would be telling. I am not going to spoil the spooktacular creativity of this production. But it’s safe to say, they have thrown the theatrical kitchen sink at this show – puppetry, sound effects, props as a visual shorthand, superb acting, live music and more.

This is a thrilling production of A Christmas Carol with plenty of bah humbug and festive cheer. Tickets are available until 3 Jan.

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