The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - CRITICS’ CHOICE | 33 -


Or­son Welles’ Christ­mas Carol NewTheatre, Tem­ple Bar, Un­til Dec 14; Whale Theatre, Grey­stones, Dec 19 On Christ­mas Eve 1938, en­ter­tain­ment mav­er­ick Or­son Welles gath­ered a com­pany of ac­tors to­gether at the Campbell Play­house in New York for a live record­ing of Charles Dick­ens’s A Christ­mas Carol. The pre­vi­ous year Welles had sent the US into a panic with his ra­dio broad­cast of HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds. For this sea­sonal spe­cial, he in­vited Lionel Bar­ry­more to play Ebenezer Scrooge, a role he was al­ready fa­mil­iar with on the stage. Welles was both di­rec­tor and com­pere for the pro­duc­tion: in the recorded tran­script he in­tro­duces the story as the world’s “favourite fic­tional chron­i­cle of what Christ­mas is, and what Christ­mas means to all the sim­ple peo­ple of the Earth”, while also pay­ing homage to the soup that spon­sored the broad­cast­ing.

About­Face Theatre has taken Welles’s pro­duc­tion as a start­ing point for its new “ra­dio play within a play” pro­duc­tion. Or­son Welles’s Christ­mas Carol opens in the 10 min­utes be­fore the com­pany goes on air, and noth­ing is go­ing smoothly. Bar­ry­more is sick, the script isn’t fin­ished and Welles – known for his leg­endary tantrums – is on the ram­page. Di­rec­tor Kath­leen Warner Yeates presents Paul Nu­gent’s play in tra­di­tional 1930’s ra­dio style, with live sound effects and a bit of ad-lib­bing. Nu­gent him­self plays the am­bi­tious ac­tor-man­ager with the fa­mous bari­tone, and Bar­ry­more: well, will he re­cover in time to play the lead? And will the au­di­ence ever get to hear a faith­ful ver­sion of Dick­ens’s “im­mor­tal story”?

Driv­ing Home for Christ­mas

Lyric Theatre, Belfast, Un­til Jan 4

It has been 20 years since co­me­di­ans Conor Grimes and Alan McKee wrote their first Christ­mas show for the Lyric Theatre. That play, Plucked and Stuffed, was a type of pan­tomime for adults, with an out­ra­geous take on sea­sonal fes­tiv­i­ties and plenty of per­ti­nent po­lit­i­cal jokes. These days the comic duo have both a pop­u­lar TV pro­file (BBC’s The Vis­i­tors and Mo­tor Mouth) and an es­tab­lished writ­ing ca­reer (The History of the Trou­bles Ac­cordin’ to My Da), but their Christ­mas show at the Lyric has be­come an an­nual tra­di­tion, show­cas­ing both their scriptwrit­ing nous and their per­for­mance skills. In Driv­ing Home for Christ­mas they take on the lead roles of Frank and Paddy, two of the trav­ellers ma­rooned in the Dan­der Inn on Christ­mas Eve. The pub lays claim to be­ing the high­est in the Sper­rin Moun­tains, but when a snow­storm strands a group of five drinkers at the pub overnight, they have nei­ther wifi cov­er­age nor phone re­cep­tion. What are they to do, then, but talk about the meaning of Christ­mas? Di­rected by Frankie Mc­Caf­ferty. Ac­tors Ruby Campbell, Gary Crossan, Rod McKee and Ali White join Grimes and McKee to make an al­ter­na­tive holy fam­ily that hopes to have even tra­di­tion­al­ists rolling in the aisles with laugh­ter.

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