This December is the first in which I receive an email from Charles Dickens. It includes log-in details and thanks to these, tonight’s audience and actors are all together on a Zoom call: “Hello, my little Christmas crackers!” I recognize most faces from Open Bar’s Shakespeare in the Garden, the theatre company behind the only live show I saw since March. When switching my camera on as requested, I have just started on my dinner – gladly I am not the only one eating (muted, of course). I spent most of the day in video conference calls, even when skipping the virtual office party. Bah humbug. But now carols are sung, Christmas trees shown, and rest faces exposed by and with my fellow audience members.
Even listening to the warm-up Christmas song medley puts me in a festive mood. Extras with little speaker parts are nominated and prepped accordingly. Expect in this format Open Bar’s eclectic signature costume changes and to be insulted when volunteering for audience participation. My favourite: “You little Victorian oik!”
Against black and white book illustrations all actors appear in colour which looks simply classic. Further it allows lucent and bodyless ghosts to appear, to vanish and to walk through walls – and as we all know, in this story plenty of ghosts haunt Ebenezer Scrooge’s London residence.
This is the second interpretation of a filmed play based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol I review this week. The story has been made into countless films; I remember mostly Disney’s Mickey Mouse version as a child and later the Bill Murray take. And then, on an advent video evening during my late teens in Hamburg with our American exchange student, we were introduced to The Muppet Christmas Carol and taught how to watch and engage with it so you will well up. Thanks to Rosie from San Francisco, this still happens to me without fail.
But this comedy online conference brings the story’s message across more than all other variations: That sometimes things must be faced and relived in order to move on. That we mostly ruin our own lives when insisting on being grumpy, others’ not so much. Open Bar, this is an enormous achievement! Especially given all the screwball comedy, the zoom grid and the earpods. As Dickens roars tonight: “That’s not even in the book, hahahaha!”
After seventy minutes it all comes to a happy end and I hope I am not the only one clapping frantically in front of the laptop. Merry Christmas, everybody!
**** out of five stars
The show was sold on a “three tiered” ticketing system, where audiences pay what they can (£10 to £30) – all profits were shared equally between the cast and creatives.