Venue: Petersham Playhouse Church Lane, Off Petersham Rd Richmond, TW10 7AG Richmond TW10 7AG
Smoking Apples Theatre has produced evocative puppet theatre in productions I’ve viewed of theirs over the past two years. Their latest production of A Christmas Carol shows all the hallmarks of their intelligent approach to intricately communicate through various sized puppets and puppet theatre in different styles. Once again, I watched in admiration as they moved the audience in promenade style from room to room through the 17th Century house to witness Scrooge’s encounters with the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The magic was palatable!
So who decided to add into the production the walk through ill-lit, muddy and slippery paths around the house? Were the walks outside an issue of timing the multiple performances, beginning every half-hour from 6.30 to 8.30pm? Was it an existentialist thing whereby the audience might understand the real difference between the dark of winter and the warmth of human kindness? The truth remains inexplicable for me.
The Visit Richmond website states:
Petersham Playhouse was established in 2011 by Anna Boglione and Louis Waymouth. Using the backdrop of Petersham House, the Playhouse showcases works from some of our most deft contemporary writers, performers, musicians and dancers – blending theatre, dance and music. Past productions include the specially commissioned chamber opera ‘Dr Quimpugh’s Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions’ by Phil Porter & Martin Ward, which will be showcasing at The Summerhall at this year’s Edinburgh Festival’, ‘La Petite Mort’ – a collaboration with The Old Vic Tunnels and Les Enfants Terrible Theatre Company and ‘A Christmas Cracker’ – an promenade show that took place throughout the grounds of Petersham House.
Unfortunately, the wet cold night did not allow me to see the charm of the grounds or setting, except to note that the restaurant area and the house itself was captivating in their own right. As I gingerly negotiated steps in darkness and anxiously tried to find my way around paths that seem to disappear underfoot, I thought how unfortunate it was that I entered the experience of A Christmas Carol in such way. By the end of the production, I was convinced that the walks in the dark added absolutely nothing of the meaning to production: in fact, I believe it worked against its otherwise high standard and original interpretation of a much loved Christmas story.
This was particular noticeable on Scrooge’s final emancipation after the spine-chilling encounter with the haunting silence of the Spirit of Christmas Future who brings him to view his own coffin. The resurrection of hope for all sinners like Scrooge as he opens the window on Christmas morning was not only denied to us as an audience but we were made to follow Scrooge out to a blackened village green populated by one cart and a few thinly voiced carol singers.
There is no doubt that the work performed in the house is magical: through the delicately beautiful innocence of the Spirit of Christmas Past, the buffoonery of the Spirit of Christmas Present and the chilling presence of death in the room with the Spirit of Christmas Future. It was for me an experience worth braving the walk in the darkness and cold outside.
Reviewed by Josey De Rossi 6th December 2012 (7.30pm)