In his first stage role for 10 years multi-award winning actor Jim Broadbent stars in this non-traditional version of A Christmas Carol that is surprising and charming but definitely not strictly in the Dickensian image, writes Ruth Brindle

For a start the action, directed by Phelim McDermott, is played for laughs almost in a panto style on occasion. The bare bones, yet very cleverly conceived, staging with revolving scenery and a story book-style static proscenium arch to frame the action leaves nothing to the imagination. Designer Tom Pye says he was influenced by early drawings in the Charles Dickens’ novel and this sets the look of the piece.

For the actors it’s a DIY effort as snow is ‘thrown’ over those entering Scrooge’s office and backdrops and even doors are literally wheeled into place.

As well as Broadbent’s rather jovial Scrooge, with a hint of modern banker about his attitude, and complete with endearing ruffled hair, four actors and two scene shifter/puppeteers play all the other parts. Full marks for all the costume changes and keeping in character.

Adeel Akhtar, who you may have seen in BBC’s Capital, plays Bob Cratchit, Marley and Young Scrooge. He also does a great scene-shifting job and brings an understated comic presence with just a look encouraging laughs. Amelia Bullmore, a very well-known actor of stage and screen, including TV’s Scott and Bailey, plays five roles, including the Ghost of Christmas Past with spectacular glowing hair and Scrooge’s mother. This is in an important scene that writer Patrick Barlow created to help us understand how Scrooge’s personality might have been formed. A misunderstood and bitter man.

Also playing five characters is Keir Charles as, among others, Frederick and Mr Fezziwig. He effortlessly brings a sense of happiness and goodwill that is another theme running through our beloved story of hope and transformation. Samantha Spiro plays six characters including the exuberant Ghost of Christmas present with a hint of music hall about it. Amazing voice and funny.

As for Jim Broadbent, he is magnetic. You can’t take your eyes off him and he seemed to relish the comedic moments during a performance that has him take the lion’s share of lines.

Among the magic touches in what could be described as the ‘rough theatre’ style production are the puppets and the puppeteers, Jack Parker and Kim Scopes. The Cratchit children are wooden puppets or just very expressive hats! Tiny Tim (who is really, really tiny) inadvertently raises a laugh as he bravely struggles on to a chair.

But by far my favourite scene was (again very clever) when Scrooge and the ghosts were flying through time. The scene-shifters held false legs in front of them as they pretended to be buffeted by the wind by shuffling from side to side. Hilarious.

The only thing that didn’t quite work was that we were supposed to realise towards the end that this is a play within a play, but this happened rather too quickly for the audience to catch on.

Nevertheless, this very different take on A Christmas Carol has enough of the original story and dialogue to make us feel comfortable, while adding a fun, modern and very Christmassy element. As Jim Broadbent says: “By the end we should all feel like running out and embracing the world.” And we did. Thank you.

Noel Coward Theatre, St Martins Lane, until January 30. Details: 0844 4825141,