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15th December 2022

Review: Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol

Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol, currently having its European premiere at Southbank Centre, is a warm, Appalachian reimagining of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Review: Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol
The companyPhoto: Manuel Harlan

Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol, which is currently having its European premiere at the Southbank Centre in London, gives an Appalachian edge to Charles Dickens’ classic tale.

Countless productions of A Christmas Carol can be found scattered throughout London this December, but no other work is touched with Parton’s genius. (Confusingly, the musical has nothing to do with the Dolly Parton film A Smoky Mountain Christmas).

The story was reworked by David H. Bell, Paul T. Couch, and Curt Wollan; the three cleverly adapted the Victorian premise to fit within the Tennessee Smoky Mountains. Much like the 1843 original text, the 1936 Appalachian Christmas was particularly cold and unbearable. The themes of love, joy, and togetherness are all accentuated by Parton’s lyricism. 

Those expecting a night of Parton’s greatest hits might be disappointed to find 9 to 5 absent, but rest assured, her presence is felt throughout the evening. If not in her introductory message welcoming guests to Southbank Centre then most definitely in the country-based musical numbers.

Parton’s country music accompanied the plot well, the comforting sing-along sound was an entertaining and uplifting watch. Whilst the recurring song ‘Three Candles’ was at times unbearably cheesy, the ensemble numbers ‘Appalachian Snowfall’ and ‘Circle of Love; were both well-received by the audience. 

The most memorable number ‘Hell’ was performed by George Maguire as Jacob Marley, the former business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge. The energetic yet eerie tune livened up the first act by offering a satisfying introduction to Scrooge’s haunting journey ahead.

Perhaps the most aptly casted was Robert Bathurst as Scrooge, who captured the essence of the grumpy character perfectly. Whilst his solo ‘I’ve Changed’ was arguably the poorest act in terms of vocals, the protagonist gave a consistent performance and certainly made the most out of the Dickensian pyjamas worn.

Samuel Sturge as Tiny Tim received the greatest audience reaction, especially in his vocal contributions to ‘Circle of Love’. The young actor offered one of the best Tennessee accents of the cast and worked well opposite Scrooge. 

The production made use of a scarce set and reused both actors and props throughout. Whilst this increased the intimacy of the show and reiterated the lacking post-Great Depression lifestyle, it also made it difficult to keep track of who was playing who.

Despite this, Set and Prop Designers, Scott Davis and Eleanor Kahn made sure the stage reflected a cold winter Christmas. A frosty blue background, a cold atmosphere, and artificial snow occupied the stage throughout most of the show, which remained so until Scrooge’s epiphany when the background part-way warmed, showing an obvious change in the character’s once cold heart. 

Needless to say, the audience enjoyed this version, and the cast received a much-deserved standing ovation.


Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol runs at Southbank Centre (Queen Elizabeth Hall) until January 8.

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