Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Soulpepper Theatre's A Christmas Carol – Review


Since 2001, Soulpepper Theatre has been presenting Michael Shamata's adaptation of A Christmas Carol almost every year. It's more or less a family tradition; husband and wife Oliver Dennis and Deborah Drakeford have played Bob and Mrs. Cratchit nine times; these days their daughter Charlotte Dennis is playing Martha Cratchit, and many of the other cast members have been around for upwards of five years, including Joseph Ziegler, who plays Scrooge, and John Jarvis, who plays all the ghosts.

All this is to say that the performance is tight, professional and perfectly timed. It must also be said that the three newest cast members acquit themselves very well. Sabrina Nardi as little Fan and Belinda Cratchit, Rhys Fulton-Doyle (Peter Cratchit and the boy Scrooge sends to buy the prize turkey) and Anton Gillis-Adelman (Ebenezer at school and Tiny Tim) deliver confident and convincing performances that are not at all cloying.

The show is performed in the round, which gives it a pleasantly fluid and flexible quality, with only a few odd staging choices (having the Ghost of Christmas Present wheeled in atop a ladder doesn't quite match the splendour of the image presented in the book of a jolly giant enthroned on a mountain of Victorian Christmas food).

But there's lots of creative magic in the show: objects fly through the air; people appear and disappear in startling ways. Sound effects (fragments of carols, church bells and spooky noises) are effective and evocative, and the ghosts in particular look very supernatural indeed. In fact, their costumes, designed by Julie Fox, are quite a triumph. Rather than matching Dickens' descriptions precisely, they portray the spirit (so to speak) of each character, incorporating such earlier-dated historical costume pieces as a ghost might wear and some artistic quasi-sculptural elements.

In any case, this story can't really fail. By the end, the opening night audience was hanging on every word, and in the very satisfying and funny scene when Scrooge realizes "the spirits have done it all in one night", they were almost whooping with delight. In this 200th anniversary year of his birth, clearly Dickens has still got it.

A Christmas Carol continues at the Young Centre until December 29. After each performance, the company will be inviting the audience to enter into the spirit of the season by donating money to The Stop Community Food Centre. Up to December 16, theatregoers should plan to arrive in the Distillery District a little early to take in the lights, music and vendor stalls at the Lowe's Christmas Market.

Photo credit: Sandy Nicholson. John Jarvis (Marley's Ghost) and Joseph Ziegler (Ebenezer Scrooge) in Soulpepper Theatre's A Christmas Carol.

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