Entertainment & Arts

Jim Broadbent charms as baddie Scrooge

A Christmas Carol Image copyright JOHAN PRESSON
Image caption Jim Broadbent plays a a 'genial' Scrooge but still seems to please the critics

Jim Broadbent has returned to the stage for the first time in a decade to play Scrooge in a new West End version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

The classic adaptation, which opened on Wednesday, is presented on a set designed like a Victorian toy theatre.

Broadbent plays his role with an undercurrent of his well-known affability, according to the critics.

Yet he said his Scrooge had been partly inspired by modern bankers and the issue of pay-day loans.

"There are an awful lot of echoes of what's going on today. We don't mention pay day loans but it's implied," he said.

"It's not a faithful view of Victorian London. It's a subtle piece of writing that allows all sorts of elements in to make it more relevant.

"At the beginning of the play Scrooge presents himself as someone who's rather smooth and into marketing. He presents a benevolent front to the world so he can carry out his financial activities. "

The play is written by Patrick Barlow, with whom Broadbent performed for many years in the cult comedy troupe The National Theatre of Brent.

And the small cast - including actors Adeel Akhtar, Amelia Bullmore, Keir Charles and Samantha Spiro - play multiples roles alongside some ingenious and heart-rending puppetry.

Image copyright JOHAN PERSSON
Image caption The production is quirky and involves puppetry

Playwright Barlow said it had been a joy to bring Broadbent back to the stage.

"It was the clown in him that I first worked with and the clown in him that I wanted to work with again. I said it had to be Jim to play Scrooge because he can be tragic and terrible - and also hilarious."

The critics seemed largely to be won over by Broadbent's take on one of the meanest men in literature, despite concerns that the actor is just too nice to be convincing.

Dominic Cavendish of the Telegraph was among those won over: "The spirit is one of send-up; and Scrooge is, perhaps for the first time ever, having a laugh - albeit at the expense of the poor.... This is Dickens retained in cod-period yet nodding to our own banking age.

"All told, this is a surprising, quirky reading which traditionalists may find hard to stomach, but Dickens' hardy perennial is robust enough to take the knockabout."

Tiffany Pritchard of the Londonist said: "Furthering to the overall lighthearted, and equally over-the-top, tone is the wonderfully charismatic Jim Broadbent whose animated grumblings and comedic gestures make the otherwise cantankerous Ebenezer Scrooge almost endearing.

"With a few 'tickety-boos' and the occasional song and dance number, the show at times feels more panto than stage play — but judging from the finale's standing ovation — that's not a bad thing."

While Lyn Gardner of the Guardian described Broadbent's Scrooge as "genial and cuddly".

But she concludes: "All this is quite fun, warm and silly... Broadbent's Scrooge... is lovable and baby faced even when supposedly at his most curmudgeonly.

"The danger is that amid all this, bonhomie is lost. Scrooge's apparent change of heart is oddly sudden, and there's no sense that he has been on a real emotional journey - rather than simply a jokey one."

A Christmas Carol is at the Noel Coward Theatre until 30 January.

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