STAGE REVIEW: A Christmas Carol at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until Sunday, February 4, 2018.

THIS brand new stage adaptation by David Edgar of Charles Dickens’ ever popular story of common man attempting to face and rise above the social ills that beset England in the 1800s, is as welcome as the festive season itself, heralding as it does what should be a time when there is compassion for all at Christmas.

Compassion, forgiveness and reformation is at the very heart of this tale which transports the audience from the early 1800s through to 1843.

Dickens had been working as a reporter on the Mirror of Parliament when the Great Reform Act was passed in 1832, and then, when he penned A Christmas Carol, it was just two years later in 1845 that The Factory Act restricted the working hours of women and children.

He was a man eager to take up the fight for all those working in factories in health-threatening conditions and Edgar’s excellent use of this and having Dickens and his editor and friend, John Forster, as vital tools in telling the story of Scrooge, the Cratchits and Tiny Tim, make for a wonderfully warm, enthralling and compelling couple of hours entertainment.

Appalled at the exploitation of child labour and the pressure their parents faced, with age expectancy extremely low, we have the pair of them turning bald, bare facts in a Government report into the tale we now know so well, but only at Forster’s probing and prompting.

Before too long the pair switch from observers into participants, with the role of Dickens, teasing out an enjoyable and energetic performance from Nicholas Bishop. He even becomes the young Scrooge at the Fezziwigs’ ball.

If you’ll pardon the pun it gradually becomes evident that Dickens is drawing on what rubbed off from his own experiences as a child working in a blacking factory. Even going as far as to admit even he might easily have turned into a robber or vagabond.

Beruce Khan offers excellent support as Forster credibly cajoles more flesh on the bone from Dickens for the story - the statement he must make, while Phil Davis - well known on our television screens for a number of portrayals of dastardly villains or surly police officers - provides a believable Scrooge who really detests the Christmas goodwill.

Humbug to all that and not by ounces, but by the pound… No hint of grammes or kilogrammes in those days!

Davis’ Scrooge has all the right ingredients - the mannerisms, facial contortions bordering on the grotesque as the miserly moneylender more in love with pounds, shillings and pence than his fellow human beings.

And there’s plenty to savour in so many other areas. A fine wodge of special effects with a levitating bed in Scrooge’s home, as well as a hand that appears to go through Marley’s midriff, there’s also the music of Catherine Jayes which is eminently listenable to as it mixes olde English, together with a touch of traditional and modern, all of which elicits smatterings of classic choreography.

Meanwhile Stephen Brimson Lewis’ design is deft, dramatic when needed and often delightful.

All of which is pulled together with purpose and poise by director Rachel Kavanaugh who allows sufficient humour to surface along with the spectral gatherings of the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, and Scrooge’s late partner, Jacob Marley (Giles Taylor).

An overall outstanding cast also excels, among them John Hodgkinson, who provided a virtuoso performance as Sir Angus Aguecheek in Twelfth Night - which is running concurrently at Stratford alongside this production, and a most likeable frothy and fun-loving Ghost of Christmas Present from Brigid Zengeni.

Fun too from Hodgkinson’s Fezziwig, and a couple of fine speeches from Gerard Carey’s likeable Bob Cratchit, but it’s Davis who dominates the night - short and stocky as he calls in his credits but a visible growth in stature as the Christmas message sinks in.

A pleasurable political and social message, this tale of Scrooge - the reasons he relents and his plans for reforming, instills in the mind that things can get better and altogether it is still a potent festive time story for all the family.

It really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas now…