REVIEW: A Christmas Carol. The Royal Shakespeare Company. Stratford.

DESPITE the excellent period costumes and sets, this is an adaptation for our times, with even a cheeky dig at Boris Johnson.

But this show no pantomime; rather it's a study of certain social attitudes which allow deprivation to continue, unchecked.

Nicholas Bishop is Dickens as a passionate social reformer; and he's very much a part of his own story as he comments, plots and observes in the company of his often exasperated editor, played by Beruce Khan.

As the plot is portrayed as a work in gestation, this of course allows for inspired liberties to be taken with the well-known tale. David Edgar deserves praise for this bold adaptation.

Emma Pallant is a very angry Martha Cratchit who absolutely refuses to toast Scrooge at the Cratchit’s humble Christmas feast.

And towards the end, even while he’s getting a raise, the downtrodden Bob finally manages to give his boss a real piece of his mind, much to the cheers of the audience.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is a sassy, life-affirming Brigid Zengeni, with a passion for Christmas sweets.

Scrooge (Phil Davis) is, of course, central stage: and the character is played admirably by Phil Davis: a humbug yelling chairman of the board from Hell. But there’s depth in his portrayal - a suggestion of hidden human qualities which ultimately will redeem him.

But this is no fairy tale. Tiny Tim (Jude Muir) with his touching songs is the bridge to the hope of a better world. But the adult Tiny Tim, still on a crutch as a young man, is among the friendly dead who surround Scrooge at the end. Money from Scrooge cannot keep him from an early grave, after so many years of neglect.

And what about those contemporary touches? Well, it is interesting to eavesdrop with Scrooge on the conversation of his nephew's set, and to hear how one should never give money to beggars, because all the money goes on drink, and how parents send their children out to work for the very same reason.

Here Edgar scratches the tinsel off Dicken's festive idyll and reveals what lies beneath.

Scrooge himself refuses to extend credit to a desperate woman because he's worried about her self-respect and urges her to pay up. These are fine times indeed for money lenders.

The score, like the songs of Tiny Tim, offer a glimpse of better things, just as carol singers are emblematic of social unity. Composer Catherine Jayes and musical director Peter McCarthy have done a sensitive, insightful job.

But ultimately, despite the rousing "God Bless Us, Everyone" at the close, and despite the spirited dances here and there, and the sheer exuberance of a wonderful Mr Fezziwig (John Hodgkinson) at his Regency party, and despite the effective redemption of Scrooge, the shadows remain: the sense that the best will in the world cannot completely overcome the darkness.

And what about that Boris Johnson joke?

Well, that would be telling!

Christmas Carol at the RSC runs until February 4.

The director is Rachel Kavanaugh.