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Four 'idiots' reinvent classic Dickens Christmas tale

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 06, 2013

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Times is hard. The gap between rich and poor has never been wider. That makes Charles Dickens' great tale about the divide, A Christmas Carol, a story for today.

But, well, times is hard. Is it wise for a small Devon company, Le Navet Bete, and a modest city venue, Plymouth's Barbican Theatre, to gamble with a long run of a Christmas show in a crowded market?

"We've had Arts Council funding before, but not for this," says Le Navet performer Al Dunn.

"The Barbican commissioned us to make the show. It was quite a big risk for them, but it has worked spectacularly. The ticket sales have been absolutely crazy, completely beyond everybody's imagination."

A Christmas Carol is the Barbican Theatre's fastest-selling show ever.

Much of that, of course, is down to Le Navet's track record. The core of the troupe of high-energy clownish exponents of physical and funny theatre got together in 2006 on Plymouth University's performing arts course when it was based at Rolle College in Exmouth.

The Exeter-based company formed in 2007 and performed their first proper show the following year.

Since then it's been a hilarious blur of acclaimed productions, including 2012's "nativity" at the Barbican, The Greatest Story Never Told, and Once Upon A Time In A Western, earlier this year.

Le Navet's relationship with the Barbican Theatre dates to their early days developing scratch work including with the venue's In The Flesh festival.

The four performers, Al, Nick Bunt, Matt Freeman and Dan Bianchi, play multiple roles, with the emphasis more on sending themselves up than poking fun at their material.

The clue is in the name: the rough translation is Daft Turnip.

"We are not trying to put the book on the stage," says Al. "This is about four idiots – total idiots – telling what they think is the story. If you know the story you might get a few extra laughs but that's not important.

"We have given it a twist. There is a lot of fantasy in the story – the ghosts, for example – so that gives us quite a lot to play with for comedy."

Some changes were inevitable. "It is Not So Tiny Tim. He has to be with four grown men on stage.

"But, without giving too much away, he does have a particularly tiny vehicle to get around on."

Other tweaks were through choice: enter the Dickens family. The crucial elements remain, though.

Poor clerk Bob Cratchit remains loyal despite employer Ebenezer Scrooge's abusive behaviour and is set for a meagre Christmas with a large family, including crippled son Tim, to feed and keep warm.

That's until Scrooge gets some ghostly visitors.

Al plays Bob and "a robber, an old lady trying to pay her bills, the Ghost of Christmas Past, one of the Dickenses and, er, who else? Oh, Mrs Cratchit."

The result, as ever with Le Navet shows, is "a story for adults with children in mind" with a rough age guide of six or seven upwards.

The show opens tomorrow and continues until Christmas Eve, but most performances are already sold out, so it's a good idea to book quickly.

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