december 2017 | Volume 162
Photo: David Cooper.
People can’t seem to get enough of A Christmas Carol. In a recent article in The Globe and Mail exploring the Christmas Carol phenomenon (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/why-charles-dickens-owns-the-christmas-culture-as-we-knowit/article37200542/), Kate Taylor reveals that Toronto’s Soulpepper, probably Canada’s leading theatre company, is reviving its production this year for the 11th time, and estimates that the company earns about 10% of its entire (substantial) annual revenue from producing the show.
Gateway’s A Christmas Carol, adapted by Michael Shamata, is one of four different versions currently running in the Lower Mainland. The others are Ronnie Burkett’s Little Dickens at The Cultch, Bah Humbug!, the annual Downtown Eastside version starring Jim Byrnes at SFU Woodward’s, and John Mortimer’s adaptation at Theatre in the Country in Maple Ridge.
The Gateway production, directed by Rachel Peake, has a few things going for it right off the hop: Drew Facey’s spectacular set with its 30-foot-high abstracted walls, large staircase, and cyclorama that opens and closes like an old-fashioned camera lens, revealing characters silhouetted by Itai Erdal’s pastel lighting; and Russell Roberts’ richly textured and utterly delightful performance as bewhiskered Ebenezer Scrooge.
Except for a narrative frame in which actor Allan Morgan sets up the show for us and then draws its final morals, this is a Christmas Carol that falls at the straightforward, sanitized end of the spectrum. The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come (Josh Chambers) isn’t too scary and the figures of Ignorance and Want, the primary vehicles of Dickens’ socioeconomic critique, are played by a couple of very young actors who appear on stage for just a moment, then are gone.
Otherwise, Scrooge is surrounded by attractive, chirpy young characters, dressed in Carmen Alatorre’s pretty period costumes. The Cratchits (Adam Olgui, Stephanie Wong, Michelle Morris, Sachi Nesbit, Matthias Falvai) don’t seem too badly off. They have plenty to eat, including a fat Christmas goose, and even Tiny Tim (Jenna Lamb) seems relatively hale and hearty. Altogether, this version of Victorian London appears to be a very jolly place.
Morgan plays a variety of characters, including Marley’s ghost and the Spirit of Christmas Present, but true to the spirit of this show he appears most effectively as spinny, funny, wired Mr. Fezziwig. There are also standout performances from Emily Jane King as a graceful, dancing Spirit of Christmas Past, looking more like an angel than a ghost, and Teo Saefkow as solid, confident nephew Fred.
As much as I liked the look of the set, I didn’t like the way it sits far upstage so the characters in Scrooge’s office and the various domestic settings are distanced from us and, in some cases, not easy to hear. Joelysa Pankanea’s music, played live just offstage, is nice but sometimes makes the young actors’ dialogue even less audible.
Although this production doesn’t capture the darker notes of Dickens’ tale, the joyful ending anchored by Roberts’ exhilarated reformed Scrooge sends the audience home happy, feeling good about the possibilities of the world. And isn’t that what A Christmas Carol is all about?
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