Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol ★★★★ Southbank Centre | Dec 8, 2022 - Jan 8, 2023

It's 1936 and it's going to be a harsh Christmas in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee! Dickens' A Christmas Carol gets a country music makeover from Dolly Parton and company that is as big, brash and boisterous as the singer herself. Scrooge, who is convincingly played by Robert Bathurst, is now the major employer in a small mining town, and his heart is as black and as hard as the coal that is the source of his wealth. It takes the usual gang of ghosts to cause him to embrace the Christmas spirit, but once again he eventually gets there. This transposition of the classic story to the era of the Great Depression and to the notoriously impoverished coal mining region of America works well to reinforce the timelessness of Dickens' themes and to bring home his message of charity and community. Likewise, Dolly Parton's songs have uncomplicated lyrics and clear melody lines which make them instantly relatable and easily engaging. "Appalachian Snowfall," "Circle of Love" and "Three Candles" all become imprinted on the audience from the moment of their first performance. The whole cast get into the spirit of the piece and Danny Whitehead gives a strong performance as Fred and as the young Scrooge. George Maguire is a fine Bob Cratchit, but if we had a quibble, it would be that he was difficult to understand in his role as Marley and the "Hell' song didn't really resonate. The idea of Christmas Future communicating with Scrooge entirely through music was both novel and effective, making sense of the fact that Scrooge himself does not find his voice until he has embraced the spirit of the season. When he does, however, Bathurst's "I've Changed" is suitably inspiring. Indeed, this is a show that should lift the mood of everyone who sees it while confirming that Dickens' Christmas message continues to transcend both time and place.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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