Christmas might be “a poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every 25th of December”, but the festive season is always a fine time to reel out grumpy old Ebenezer Scrooge and spook him out of his curmudgeonly ways.

Charles Dickens’ classic tale of redemption is as prevalent as trees, decorations and mince pies at this time of year, especially in Coventry this December, where two productions are vying for attention less than a mile apart.

The Albany Theatre’s version is first out of the blocks, with artistic director Kevin Shaw’s new adaptation billed as ‘the perfect family-friendly alternative to a traditional panto’ – and on a night when the Belgrade Theatre’s Beauty And The Beast was put on hold due to a positive Covid tests among the company, the claim provided somewhat prophetic.

But also accurate, as the beautifully-staged production ticked all the boxes for a terrific family night out – cracking performances, creative sets (including an unexpectedly impressive Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come), a few carols and a super-tight script that gave the well-known, and well-worn, narrative a bit of modern zip.

The pacy production was matched by similarly energetic performances from the seven-strong cast. Local stalwart Paul Nolan led from the front - grim-faced and bent double as the miser Scrooge before transforming into skipping, wide-eyed Uncle Ebenezer - but this was a true ensemble piece, with his six cohorts (all from the West Midlands) each performing a variety of roles as well as getting a turn in the spotlight.

That generosity of spirit was in abundance throughout, matched by a palpable sense of good cheer - and much cheering - at the finale, confirming that in these safe hands Dickens’ revered bit of Christmas past still makes a wonderful Christmas present.

Four stars. Reviewed by Steve Adams on Wednesday 6 December.

A Christmas Carol continues to show at Albany Theatre, Coventry, until 8 January.