Paul Meade’s production of Orson Welles’ A Christmas Carol for AboutFACE Ireland begins with the audience being cheerfully immersed in Welles’ world. Powerscourt Theatre was resplendent in the pre-war Christmas glow of a CBS radio stage in 1938 replete with heaving Christmas tree and garland, Welles’ himself was onstage poring over a sheaf of papers as the sounds of the cast, as carollers, drifted in from outside. The overall effect was marred by a slightly jarring fire announcement delivered by a Front of House person who turned out to be a member of the cast. My confusion ended here, though, as the play began in earnest with Welles announcing to his cast the last minute absence of their ‘Scrooge,’ Lionel Barrymore, and the flurry of changes to their radio play (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol) that would need to ensue. There were two plays going on here and this production should be lauded for poignantly and evocatively realising one, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, if not quite the other story of Welles’ last minute triumph in the face of adversity. A gifted cast played emergent actors of the day playing in a radio play, with an excellently timed score, live carol singing and sometimes hilarious live sound effects.
Delightful stage design and costumes complimented the show. There was much to enjoy here and the audience was mesmerised watching the intricacies of the radio play of A Christmas Carol unfold. The radio play itself was book-ended by cleverly written interaction between Welles, his soon-to-be stellar cast and long-suffering female assistant, Benny. It is here that the production falters slightly. I wanted to see Welles, played by Paul Nugent, be ‘Orson Welles TM’ in all his genius and hammy glory, this is never quite realised, although Nugent’s potential to do so is clearly present. The addition of a cheesy advert for a local vintage clothes store, sung in a 1930’s stylee, was just plain unnecessary as there was already an advert in the company’s programme. The audience thought it hilarious, I didn’t.
I’d love to see this show staged again for a longer run next Christmas as it’s a quirky take on A Christmas Carol, but next time I’d tell Orson to give it more welly and hold the cheese on the advert placement.
Review by A.Devereux
Powerscourt Theatre, Powerscourt Townhouse, December 20th-22nd
About Face Ireland web site.