An Edinburgh Christmas Carol: Our review of the Lyceum's Christmas show

The Lyceum Christmas show – as much a part of Edinburgh’s festivities these days as the Princes Street big wheel, the tree on the Mound and, well, Scrooge himself.  Who knew, the world’s most famous miser was inspired by an inscription on an Edinburgh gravestone spotted by author Charles Dickens on a visit to the city? Well I didn’t, until this show.

Dickens misread the gravestone inscription for one Ebenezer Scroggie as being for a “mean man” (rather than meal man or corn merchant as it actually was) which made him think about how miserly would someone need to be to go through all eternity with that as their epitaph.  

And so Scrooge as we know and love him was born. That connection was the inspiration behind the Lyceum’s An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, setting the tale in the city and adding in Greyfriars Bobby, so Scrooge can show his lack of sympathy for a stray dog,  along with humankind.

The city setting works really well for the story – the atmospheric  Old Town backdrops, with the looming castle and the gates of Greyfriars Kirkyard, were made for this season, as well as the nostalgic Victorian Christmas that Dickens’ tale conjures up.  Christmas was banned in Scotland at this time, a legacy of its Puritan past – a fact which astounded my kids: “Nooo, really?” (In fact the whole production is quite good on incidental educational bits about the city.)

Other than Bobby – played by a puppet as is Tiny Tim – the story and characters would be familiar to small people who’ve seen any of the countless film versions.  There are plenty of braw Scots words in the script – checking that my two kids were following it, I was given a look of utter disgust and told they were fine.  

There’s no getting away from the fact that Marley appearing in a cloud of dry ice bound in chains in front of a cowering Scrooge, and Scrooge encountering his own gravestone in the company of a headless drummer are pretty scary scenes for some younger children – the pre-schooler in front of us almost garrotted her father at this later point, although there was a small person near the front cheerfully baying for blood. And the scary moments are quickly lightened with some hammy jokes, quite a feature of this production.

The puppets work really well, especially Bobby who is very cute and incredibly dog-like. My daughter said: “I don’t normally like puppets but I really liked these ones.” The costumes and acting are spot-on and the use of city community choirs as carollers in the street scenes is a lovely touch.

And you’d have to have a Scrooge-like heart not to be moved at the end when Ebenezer learns his lesson about the true meaning of the season of goodwill. We flocked out into the frosty air and the real Edinburgh, my nine-year-old son declaring:  “It was brilliant. I had forgotten how much I like Auld Lang Syne.”

*An Edinburgh Christmas Carol runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre until Jan 4. Box office 0131 248 4848 or lyceum.org.uk

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