I've never made any secret of the fact that I'm a big fan of Christmas. Obviously, I very much enjoy the additional opportunities for eating and drinking afforded by a celebration that now seems to fill an entire month, but my love of Christmas goes beyond mere greed and also encompasses my fondness for tradition. I love the whole ritual of it all - getting the decorations down from the loft, wrapping presents with a small snifter of sherry, watching It's a Wonderful Life with a glass of port and, best of all, re-reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol every year (and let's face it, Christmas hasn't really started until you've seen the Muppets film version as well).
Joyous news then that this December brings with it the chance to combine these two great pleasures into one irresistible Christmas package. A pop-up theatre - The New Playhouse - has appeared (as if by Christmas magic) in the Great Northern complex on Deansgate, and is hosting performances of The Flanagan Collective's version of A Christmas Carol throughout the month. This is no ordinary theatrical experience though: our first clue comes as we are purchasing Prosecco from the bar area (so far so standard) and notice a door in the corner with a sign proclaiming this to be the residence of one "Scrooge and Marley". Before long, we are allowed to go through it, and find ourselves in Scrooge's very parlour - we take our seats in various locations around the room and the play, such as it is, begins.
I say "such as it is" because this is unlike any play I have ever seen. Yes, there is some fine acting, but the story of Scrooge is so well known that there really is no need to spell it all out for us - instead, we are immersed in an evening of songs, parlour games, dancing and - hurrah! - eating. A very fine meal of cold meats, bread, veg (LOADS of sprouts - Jacob Marley fetches me seconds) and a couple of splendid homemade pies is served up partway through, along with mulled wine and some Christmas pudding and mince pies for afters - no mean feat when there are over forty hungry people in need of refreshment. We pull crackers (I win a pirate eyepatch); we sing Christmas songs as Marley accompanies us on his guitar; we play parlour games, including a few rounds of "Who Am I" during which my friend, who has made the mistake of wearing an eye-catching festive jumper, predictably finds himself sitting in Scrooge's armchair asking us questions such as whether he's male or female (jury still out on this one).
Everyone loves it, and is more than willing to embrace the Yuletide spirit despite it only being the 2nd December. As well as all the silliness there is also some very imaginative and atmospheric drama, including a truly inspired moment when Scrooge breaks free from the theatre and runs round the Great Northern amphitheatre as we watch him from the window. The whole thing is performed by just two very talented men (although we obviously help a great deal, and there are several nice people who bring us dinner) - John Holt-Roberts as Jacob Marley and Al Barclay as Ebeneezer Scrooge (pictured above courtesy of James Drury). Both are thoroughly charismatic and engaging, and one of them can even do handstands, something that I don't recall from the book - clearly time I read it again...
- The Flanagan Collective's Christmas Carol runs until 19th December (I can only imagine how much better it gets the closer we get to Christmas) and costs £35 a head (including that mighty dinner) or £30 each for groups of 10 people or more - tickets are quite scarce now but can be purchased here. And if you're still in doubt whether you should book, take a look at these photos and think about whether you've ever seen people having this much fun at the theatre before.