WHAT a Dickens of a festive romp!

The Nuffield’s Christmas offering opened to a marvellous reception last night, with one of the best-staged and most original versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol I’ve enjoyed for many a year.

On the whole loyal to Mr Dickens’ original Victorian morality tale, in other parts the adaptation by The Nuffield’s artistic director Patrick Sandford takes on a Tim Burton feel as Scrooge sets out on his journey of salvation accompanied by various festive spirits.

Throw in a touch of pantomime – a Ghost of Christmas Present who has all the hallmarks of a panto dame, and a communal sing-along – and you have a recipe for, well, a Christmas pud to please just about everyone.

Mark Hadfield is marvellous as the grumpy skinflint Scrooge, played as more the malevolent banker than grasping meanie.

Harry Napier is Ebenezer’s long-suffering and somewhat docile clerk Bob Crachit with the incredibly large family of, I counted, no less than 12 children. Little wonder Mrs Crachit, played by Anne-Marie Piazza, is worried if the roast goose will go round.

A strong supporting cast including an ensemble of local youngsters ensures that the yuletide action seldom falters.

But it’s the set that almost steals the show, presenting Scrooge’s London home as an awkward, off-balance, nightmare-like world. It is a brilliant device to introduce all manner of ghostly aspirations and spectral comings and goings.

All four ghosts – don’t forget the chain-wearing Jacob Marley – materialise and fade back into the night with just the right amount of chill for what is, after all, meant to be a festive serving of good cheer. With tickets starting at £8.50, it’s likely that the Nuffield has a surefire Christmas hit.

Runs until January 8.