If you had asked us back in March 2020, when theatres were first forced to close to the coronavirus pandemic, that we would still be facing restrictions, cancellations, and ongoing difficulties nearly 2 years later, we wouldn’t have believed you but anyway, here we are. Theatre is fighting back but still being forced to jump through countless hoops in order to make art happen, but nevertheless theatre is happening up and down the country against all the odds.
Exeter based theatre troupe Le Navet Bete have become well known for adding their unique brand of physical comedy, sight gags and wordplay to classic stories, and have recently turned their attention to the classic tale of greed, ghostly visits, family, and redemption that is Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. The production ran at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre over the festive season and was filmed early on in its run live at the venue. I was fortunate enough to catch the show on the last day that it was available to be viewed online, and it was as smile inducing and joyful as the company’s previous productions, brimming with silliness and laughter, all without losing the much-loved tale at its heart.
For this run of ‘A Christmas Carol’ cast members Nick Bunt, Al Dunn and Matt Freeman were joined by production director John Nicholson to bring their numbers back up to four after a non-covid related health issue meant that Dan Bianchi had to withdraw. Between the four of them, they play a multitude of different roles with Nick Bunt taking on the role of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge with Al Dunn as the kind-hearted Mr Cratchit along with other roles. From charity collectors, family members and visiting ghosts, the small yet perfectly formed cast bring the characters to life with energy, passion, and a mega sized dose of fun.
Having seen the company’s previous productions of ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Three Musketeers’, there are certain elements that you come to expect to find in a Le Navet Bete show, such as larger than life set pieces, use of popular music, audience interaction, playing multiple characters with quick changes and the inventive use of costume and unicycles. ‘A Christmas Carol’ includes all of this and more, with the spirits dressed to the nines, the ghost of Christmas present’s mixture of Christmas tree and pantomime dame being a particular highlight and Matt Freeman’s use of a unicycle in his portrayal of a not so Tiny Tim raising many a laugh.
This quick pace production takes us through the classic story, making it entertaining for all ages with its comedic effects and sense of adventure. Le Navet Bete embrace that sense of fun, laughing at themselves throughout and jumping at the chance to interact with the audience. All without losing its festive feel and the story, this production provides exactly what we all need right now, laughter by the bucket load. The cast have the audience in stitches as they are whipped around the stage in sleighs or atop moving staircases, with a scene in which Dunn attempts to play both Mr and Mrs Cratchit leaving me smiling like the Cheshire cat.
This theatre troupe are able to effortlessly take a story that could be considered quite serious and transform it into a laugh out loud adventure for all ages without losing the story, without losing the important lessons. They create shows that the entire family can enjoy together, and after so long apart, being brought together is what we crave right now. Whilst this current run of ‘A Christmas Carol’ may be over, I hope that this is not the last that we see of it, for it provides a perfect alternative to the traditional Christmas pantomime for families to enjoy.
Images found via Google, not my own