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Theatre Review - A Christmas Carol at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

PUBLISHED: 14:41 25 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:41 25 November 2019

Pete Ashmore (Bob Cratchit) and Darren Lawrence (Scrooge). Photo by Steven Barber.

Pete Ashmore (Bob Cratchit) and Darren Lawrence (Scrooge). Photo by Steven Barber.

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Theatre by the Lake (TBTL) have managed something magical, delightful and hilariously funny with their Christmas-cum-winter offering this year. It is hard to imagine the old clichéd Dickensian story being anything but snooze-worthy, but TBTL has a secret weapon: this production was written by Patrick Barlow.

Darren Lawrence (Scrooge). Photo by Robert DayDarren Lawrence (Scrooge). Photo by Robert Day

Long-term theatregoers to Keswick will recall the run-away success of 'The 39 Steps' which brought Patrick Barlow huge accolades. That production at TBTL is arguably still the funniest thing I've seen in the last ten years. The clowning which took place with little more than a couple of ladders, some hats and a handful of boxes was astonishing. It almost goes without saying that 'A Christmas Carol' is in the same vein.

'A Christmas Carol' certainly begins like a traditional seasonal production. A rather surprisingly jolly Ebenezer Scrooge (Darren Lawrence) declaring he loves Christmas made me think for a moment that we were going to get a post-modernist Scrooge-in-reverse story; but no, we soon discover he loves the season because he can swindle more money out poor wretches who need loans to make it through the festivities. From there, the story seems to go largely act-as-known with plenty of gags and jollity. But after the interval the second act begins and…oh my!

It is in this second half that the creative genius which is Patrick Barlow really comes to the fore. Here, his trademark minimalist use of props along with the superb talents of the five actors brought roars of laughter from the audience again and again. I do not wish to spoil what happens, but I will say this: Tiny Tim alone was worth the price of the ticket. Comic. Genius. Seriously.

Picking out a favourite actor is hard at the best of times but doubly so with this production as the team were all so strong. Sally Cheng (playing numerous roles) has long been a favourite of mine (she starred in the excellent 'The Emperor and the Nighingale'). She's beautiful, incredibly talented and has a smile which radiates joy and makes you believe in Santa again. But even Cheng was outshone by the phenomenon which was Claire Storey. Also playing several roles, this actor was rip-roaringly hilarious. If you are considering bringing your kids to this show, take them for Storey's portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Present. You're welcome.

Darren Lawrence (Scrooge) and Claire Storey (Ghost of Christmas Present). Photo by Steven Barber.Darren Lawrence (Scrooge) and Claire Storey (Ghost of Christmas Present). Photo by Steven Barber.

Overall, 'A Christmas Carol' is a brilliant combination of unique TBTL artistry, great acting talent and borderline-panto hilarity. Fans of Barlow's plays shouldn't be disappointed. Those who love Christmas won't be disappointed. And those who prefer something fresh and a little different most certainly could not be disappointed.

Oh, and again I have to say, Tiny Tim - buy a ticket.

'A Christmas Carol' is showing at Theatre by the Lake's Main House until 11 January 2020. To find out more call the Box Office on 017687 74411 or visit www.theatrebythelake.com.

Pete Ashmore (Mr Grimes) and Max Gallagher (Young Scrooge). Photo by Robert DayPete Ashmore (Mr Grimes) and Max Gallagher (Young Scrooge). Photo by Robert Day

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