A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Muiden and The Hague

Acting, as we all know, is a precarious profession. Every time an actor walks on stage he is baring himself and leaving himself exposed. In a typical play he has the comfort and support of the rest of the company and a text that, to a certain extent, has been tried and tested. When an actor chooses to perform a one-man show and, what is more, one he has devised and directed himself, there is no safety net. Now, taking on this well-known and well-loved Charles Dickens seasonal story should guarantee success, but the anticipation it creates brings with it a certain level of expectation and therefore maybe a few pitfalls for the unwary.

Ashley Ramsden describes himself primarily as a storyteller and was certainly confident enough in his ability and material not to disappoint. He has a repertoire of a dozen or so shows that he performs around the world in venues ranging from theatres to castles, from prisons to private homes. His A Christmas Carol has been a regular festive fixture at STET, the English Theatre in The Hague, for several years and has become a must-see for hundreds of ex-pat and Dutch families in the lead up to the Big Day.

Mr Ramsden has an onstage persona and appearance for which the term Dickensian could have been invented and he is therefore ideally suited to tell us the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his Yuletide epiphany. Aided only by a chair, a bentwood hat stand, a change of coat, some swirling mist and excellent lighting from Vassilis Apostolatos, he sets about his task with skill and verve.

All Dickens’ characters are expertly drawn, clearly defined and believable. While one would not, for one minute, presume that playing them would be easy, one could easily believe them to be manna from heaven for any actor worth his salt. Mr Ramsden paints the twenty-odd characters with a brush, sometimes fine, sometimes broad, but always precise, always sensitive – I particularly liked his Mrs Crachit and the boy Scrooge sends to buy the goose. The actor is always aware of where there should be light and relishes applying the darker shades that are so prevalent in all of Dickens’ works.

Although essentially a one-man show, Mr Ramsden is joined on stage by an a-capella harmony quartet, the Plum Pudding Singers, who provide beautifully sung interludes throughout the show – I loved their In the Bleak Midwinter by Gustav Holst.

So, an excellent lead-in to Christmas and one which should remind us that it is a time not only for giving but perhaps more importantly, of goodwill to all.   Michael Hasted  Den Haag   20th December 2019