A Christmas Carol at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff – review

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Thank you to the Sherman Theatre for providing us with review tickets for A Christmas Carol in exchange for this review

The Sherman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol is an absolutely brilliant and clever piece of theatre – I saw it at last night’s press night with my 11 and 10 year olds and we were so impressed. It’s the tonic that I didn’t know I needed in these uncertain times; slightly scary in parts, heartwarming in others, and laugh out loud funny in others. If you get the chance to see it, please do. It’s fantastic.

The highly acclaimed writer and author Gary Owen has adapted the familiar Charles Dicken classic – with a few tweaks. Ebenezer Scrooge is female (“the Times richest woman in the world for the seventh year in the row,”, in fact as she repeatedly reminds us). It’s set in Victorian times as in the original but the action has relocated to Cardiff, there are snippets of Welsh, subtle humorous contemporary references, new and original live music accompanies the show, and there’s a hilarious turn from an all-singing, all-dancing Christmas tree. Yes, really. But more on that later.  

As we take to our seats, musical director Gareth Wyn Griffiths sets the festive mood for the night with carols at the piano. Live music is always a huge part of the Sherman’s family Christmas productions, with the music created by composer Lucy Rivers and performed by the cast who not only sing but also play a variety of instruments as part of the band The Bah Humbugs.

The set is dark and imposing, depicting the Victorian era streets of Cardiff, with the workhouse, the counting house, Fezziwig’s and a few other buildings of differing sizes. The words Bar Humbug light up above the stage.

Hannah McPake plays Scrooge. A familiar face at the Sherman at Christmas, we’ve seen her previously in Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows, but I think this role is her best yet. She’s slightly menacing with some brilliant facial expressions, and just when you worry the children in the audience are going to get scared she turns it around with subtle doses of humour. The part is written brilliantly, with a moving back story that really explains why Scrooge is as she is. There’s a lot of depth to the character and McPake delivers all the emotions required of such a part.

Another Sherman Christmas regular Keiron Self – Alice In Wonderdland, The Wind in the Willows, The Borrowers, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Arabian Nights – is Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s former business partner, pleading with Scrooge to change his miserly ways. Again, he’s a little scary at times, most notably when he appears in chains, but he balances it with warmth and humour.

Scrooge is visited by the graceful Kizzy Crawford as The Ghost of Christmas Past, resplendent in an illuminated white dress.

And just when we thought we knew how this production was panning out, Seriol Davies appears as The Ghost of Christmas Present, dressed in a Christmas tree dress and gold leggings, singing and dancing to Pink’s Get The Party Started. It’s so completely unexpected and the audience love it, cheering him on and laughing out loud. He’s later joined the Keiron Self and Feliks Mathur as giant red baubles. The whole thing is wonderfully ridiculous and so much fun.

James Ifan, Feliks Mathur, Emmy Stonelake, Nadia Wyn Abouayen and Enfys Clara make up the rest of the cast, playing various characters between them, some familiar from the book, others created for the show, and including a few puppets. When they’re not performing, the cast are playing instruments and standing at the side of stage. The energy between them is visible.

The age guidance for this show is 7+, which I think is about right. My youngest is seven but couldn’t make it due to a party, but I think he would have loved it. More sensitive children may find elements slightly frightening (the Ghost of Christmas Future is a giant creation that takes up half the stage) but there’s a good balance with more upbeat and comical moments. And of course dancing and singing Christmas trees and baubles.

Although it’s a family production, there’s also plenty here for unaccompanied adults. I would have enjoyed this just as much without my children.

Covid-wise, Covid passes are required at the door for all those over 18, masks must be worn at all times other than when eating and drinking and in fairness everyone is wearing them in the auditorium, and there are empty seats left between parties. The bar area is open, with plastic dividers between tables and plenty of space.

In the words of my 10 year old, “It’s brilliant”.

A Christmas Carol is at the Sherman Theatre until 31 December. Tickets cost from £16-£26; £2 off for concessions and under 25s half price. See the Sherman’s website for more information and to book.

Production photos by Richard Hubert Smith. Two photos below are mine.

Younger children may enjoy The Elves and the Shoemaker or Y Coblynnod A’r Crydd, English and Welsh language versions of the same show, which is at the Sherman until 31 December and aimed at children aged three to six and their families.

See this blog post for more ideas of family-friendly theatre in and around Cardiff this Christmas plus the Cardiff section of Cardiff Mummy Says.

I also share a lot of ideas on the Cardiff Mummy Says Instagram channel, in particular Reels and Stories (see the Local Events Stories highlight).

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