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vancouverplays review


preview imageA CHRISTMAS CAROL
by Charles Dickens
adapted by James Fagan Tait
Playhouse Theatre Company
Nov. 25-Dec. 23
604-280-3311 or

Oh no, I thought. Not another Christmas Carol.  Why is the Playhouse doing that old chestnut again?  Okay, it is a pretty good story.  And this new adaptation looked promising, coming from the team of writer/director James Fagan Tait and composer Joelysa Pankanea who gave us that great Crime and Punishment and those cool Boca del Lupo shows in Stanley Park.

Well, Tait and Pankanea deliver the goods big time.  With a fabulous design team and an impeccable cast, this is A Christmas Carol worth singing about, a bedtime story for adults that ripples with the magic of great theatre.

Like their Crime and Punishment, the show is dark and deliberate. A chorus marks the action to Pankanea’s melancholy rhythms on vibes and percussion, Mark Haney’s bass, and Scott Hughes’s harp.  Bryan Pollock’s bare set, shaped by Itai Erdal’s gorgeous moody lighting, is broken only by a swath of white like a scroll on which Scrooge’s life will be written, setting off the blacks and browns of Mara Gottler’s beautiful Victorian costumes.  The actors mime the props and furniture, and Pankanea creates the sound effects: a clock striking, the chains of Marley’s ghost (Tom Pickett) shaking.

Alex Diakun is superb as Scrooge. Playing against the usual impulse to exaggerate, he’s relaxed and matter-of-factly very funny.  Daikun throws away the “humbugs” and acts as naturally as his character on Da Vinci’s Inquest, where Tait’s colloquial dialogue wouldn’t sound out of place.  When his nephew invites him to Christmas dinner, Scrooge deadpans, “I’d rather do time.”

The play’s naturalism is most effective at home with the Cratchits.  No cheap sentiment here. Mrs. Cratchit (Sarah May Redmond), a harried mother, struggles with too little money, passive husband Bob (Camyar Chai), and a houseful of restless kids (including Donna Soares and Maiko Bae Yamamoto). She barks at one, “I’ll give you something to cry about,” and scolds Tiny Tim: “Don’t say cripple! Or Jesus!”  Tim himself (Aidan Drummond) is neither spunky nor pathetic.  He’s just a kid with a bum leg and a sweet soprano voice.

Despite the sociology, including hints that young Ebenezer, here called Benny (Kyle Rideout), was abused as a child, the show doesn’t stint on comedy or theatricality.  Dean Paul Gibson plays Fezziwig as a hilarious wild man who grabs bums and leads a wonderfully incongruous square dance at his Christmas party.  Andrew McNee’s Ghost of Christmas Present looks like the Jolly Green Giant. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Patti Allan) is a middle-aged ballerina whose head lights up. 

Kudos to everyone involved for revitalizing this classic and showing what’s possible when you leave the bells and whistles and let talent and imagination take the stage.

Jerry Wasserman