Inky Theatre: A Christmas Carol – as Told by Jacob Marley (Deceased) by Brother Wolf Productions at Crewe Lyceum: reviewed by Deborah Edgeley

The chains we forge in life are heavy. The sound and movement of James Hyland as Jacob Marley (Deceased), struggling to breathe, carrying the chains, navigating the stage with such expertise, inviting us to believe that a dead man could walk, talk, and morph into many other Dickensian characters without costume changes, yep, sold! My suspension of disbelief was well and truly suspended for the whole performance. To complement this, Chris Warner, composer and sound designer, added a delicious gothic array of disturbing morgue echoes. Well, what a special way to begin the festive season.

The Crewe Lyceum Theatre staged this terrific production on 5/12/22: A Christmas Carol – As Told by Jacob Marley (Deceased), adapted and performed by multi award-winning actor/writer/artistic director, James Hyland of Brother Wolf Productions. Established in 1998, Brother Wolf Productions is an award-winning company whose previous successes include the acclaimed 5-star monodrama, Jekyll & Hyde. The company has produced award-winning theatre, TV, film, and radio productions, including numerous nationwide tours at other prestigious venues in the UK, such as the Royal Albert Hall, the Alban Arena, St George’s Hall, the Stockport Plaza, and the Leicester Square Theatre in London’s West End.

Hyland is mankind! He literally jumps from character to character, from Marley to Scrooge, to the magpie people pinching deceased Scrooge’s belongings, even to the adorable Tiny Tim. Such energy. Such force. Genius.

Hyland gives us strong flashes of Albert Finney, and Alastair Sim, at their darkest. He not only lights up the stage with his vibrant personality and skill, but terrifies us too, so much so that at times I was scared to look directly into his eyes. What make-up! Extraordinary work by costume and make-up designer Nicki Martin-Harper.

In a happy memory of Christmas past, we are invited to a festive party to join the host, Scrooge’s old jolly boss Fezziwig, where Scrooge recognises people from the past, in the audience, making us feel part of the story. Scrooge sees himself as a young man. Regrets? He has a few…

One haunting line that really stood out for me was that Scrooge is ‘aligned to the child’, Tiny Tim. The warning is that Scrooge’s decisions and ensuing actions in not giving the Cratchit family a living wage (Hyland so captures the zeitgeist, take note, greedy government and employers) could have grave consequences for the well-being of the poor Cratchit family, especially Tiny Tim. After his character development arc in gaining wisdom, Hyland’s portrayal as Scrooge speaking from a window, down to the boy who fetches the prizewinning turkey, is joyful and heartwarming (with only a chair as a prop, incredible!) and he captures the true essence of this precautionary tale.

Ok, so what did we learn about Marley that we didn’t already know? Difficult question. I think that Marley is, excuse the pun, deadly serious about his warning to Scrooge, he is truly sorry for his avarice, and is in agony, in purgatory. Great, but oh dear. Will he be eventually released now he has helped Scrooge? Maybe one day, but not quite yet…

Do go and see this one-man-show if you can. You’ll have no regrets (Marley’s groan).

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