Theatre: Christmas Carol gets the panto treatment

Jim Broadbent and Samantha Spiro in A Christmas Carol

At the funeral service of Charles Dickens in Westminster Abbey in 1888 the Very Rev Arthur P Stanley pronounced A Christmas Carol to be the finest charity sermon in the English language.

The present adaptation at Noël Coward Theatre is written by Patrick Barlow. The director is Phelim McDermott. Their Pollock’s Toy Theatre pantomime approach, with its cut-out scenery, fake snow and Tiny Tim played by a tiny puppet, is much lighter than Dickens’s.

The genial Jim Broadbent has recently played Father Christmas on film in Get Santa, a role for which he is far more suited. You feel he is only play-acting at being Scrooge. He is already redeemed. The production, nevertheless, has considerable charm and Broadbent’s performance is part of that charm.

If you liked the Mischief Theatre Company’s The Play That Went Wrong, you will love their latest show, Peter Pan Goes Wrong at Apollo Theatre. They are experts at slapstick and the technical disasters have been brilliantly worked out and hilariously executed. Adam Meggido’s production, defying all Health and Safety rules, is “an awfully big misadventure”. The revolving set has a life of its own. Scenery falls down. Bunk beds collapse. A galleon tilts precariously. Captain Hook loses his hook. Nana, the dog, gets stuck in the dog-door. Peter Pan flies upside down. Tinkerbell gets electrocuted. It’s the funniest show in town.

Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood, a metaphysical Cold War spy thriller, is not so much a “whodunnit?” as a “how did they do it?” Stoppard said he wanted it “to be light on its feet, an entertainment, with some science in it”. At its premiere in 1988 audiences found it too complicated and too confusing. Not surprisingly, it hasn’t had a London revival since then.

The rewrite at Hampstead Theatre benefits from Howard Davies’s slick production. But despite persuasive performances by Lisa Dillon as Head of Military Intelligence, Tim McMullan as her boss and Alec Newman as a triple agent, it is still too complicated and confusing to be a success. Stoppard wrote a much better play about the Cold War for television, called Professional Foul.

American actor-playwright Wallace Shawn’s potentially interesting but flawed An Evening at the Talk House at the National Theatre is about the government sponsoring killing of people whose views and faces it doesn’t like. A group of theatrical friends, having a reunion after a 10-year absence, accept the killing as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Ian Rickson directs with real flair; except for the final minutes which leave the audience up in the air, uncertain whether the play is finished or not.

Caryl Churchill’s 40-minute Here We Go, also at the National Theatre, which owes something to Elias Canetti, Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett, is about death and is presented in three short scenes. The first is at a wake, the second is in limbo. The third, in total silence, has a geriatric suffering from Alzheimer’s being dressed and undressed by his carer. One or two members of the audience laugh in self-defence. Most sit in silence. It’s not funny. Life goes on and on and then suddenly there is a blackout.