Memories of productions past, including The Novocastrian Philosophers’ Club and We Got Mittens Too!, had armed me for an ‘up hill, down dale’ exploration of the Lit & Phil’s nooks and crannies. November Club, Cinzia Hardy’s energetic and enterprising troupe, has a fondness for keeping audiences on the hoof.

But the rows of chairs between the library busts put me right. Rather than a promenade performance, this was to be one in which the body, fortified by a seasonal brew, could let the imagination take the strain.

Writer Fiona Ellis took her inspiration from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in which a miser learns the error of his ways. Setting her play in a library made a lot of sense.

Alice Byrne’s bright and expressive Narrator introduced us to librarians ‘George’ (short for Georgina) and Frank who, it transpires, are fighting an uphill battle to sustain a place whose soul is on life support.

Zoe Lambert and Jake Jarratt invested the pair with all the infectious enthusiasm at their disposal, which is quite a lot. Quickly we were in their world, us oldies and the kids at the front. What to do about the boss, desperate Ebenezer Compendium, who wants them to work at Christmas?

Ebenezer’s late father understood about the magic of books and said even the boring ones, books about hinges and stuff (bound to be at least one in the Lit & Phil), could fire the imagination. But Matt Jamie’s arid Ebenezer has an eye only on the bottom line. And it seems it’s sinking fast. Blow these books. Blow creativity. The librarians must put in festive graft and George’s large family must do without her.

Breezing through and away from this dour scenario goes Lavender Parenthesis, splendidly embodied by Clare Forsythe as a novel-writing adventurer in the mould of Indiana Jones but more intelligent.

The prospect of Compendium and Parenthesis being joined in holy matrimony (and what a double-barrelled moniker that would make) now seems remote. Will Sir Casper Grasper (Chris Gotts) land her hand?

As in Dickens, the story ended well thanks to a dash of the supernatural, both faked (those mischievous librarians) and real, as manifested in The Ghost of the Lost Libraries (Grace Kirby high on the upper walkway with an origami library on her head).
Stage smoke, a lightning flash or a zipwire would have added to the impact of the ghost’s appearance but possibly put the Lit & Phil at risk, to say nothing of Grace.

Once again November Club delivered a charming drama perfectly tailored to its surroundings. It also captured the uncertainty of the times. Only that morning I’d read of the 800 libraries lost during a decade in which the Ebenezers have been on the march.
A Lit & Phil Carol was directed by Cinzia Hardy with design and costumes by Imogen Cloet and paper-based designs by Bethan Maddocks.

Their endeavours went far beyond the series of performances. An enrichment programme involved schoolchildren and community groups and their creations can be seen in the Lit & Phil over the festive season. Bethan Maddocks’ beautiful Christmas story tree really shouldn’t be missed.

David Whetstone