Staff Writer/Fact Checker/Editor
It is that time of year once again; in what is perhaps the most magical season of them all, filled with laughter, warm greetings, charitable gestures, and, of course, those precious moments spent with loved ones.
And what better way to reflect on all that is good in the world than to enjoy a timeless classic we’ve all read and seen for the umpteenth time? Proudly presented by the widely renowned Soulpepper Theatre Company, this is Michael Shamata’s brilliant adaptation of Charles Dickens’ celebrated novella, A Christmas Carol.
Though if I absolutely must fill any of you in on the plot, it is set in 19th century London, England, where a miserable plutomaniac named Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Oliver Dennis and Joseph Ziegler on alternating nights) works tirelessly to profit from assets only he finds worthy of his investments. He’s a stingy grouch, especially around Christmastime, refusing to even visit his own nephew Mr. Fred (Matthew Edison) for dinner and reluctantly giving his assistant Bob Cratchit (Jordan Pettle) the day to spend with his family.
It isn’t until one night when the ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley (John Jarvis), visits Scrooge. Forged from a lifetime of greed and selfishness, Marley is forced to roam in purgatory strapped in heavy chains, and he warns Scrooge that if he doesn’t change his own ways then he will suffer the same fate. With that, three other spirits soon follow to present him with visions that just might get him to reconsider his hatred for love.
Not only does Shamata remain devoted to the source material, his script also contains a high degree of familiarity, in the form of notions that are very much relevant to current social conditions. He addresses problems, both regarding mentality and inequality, which showcase the sad reality that people don’t truly sympathize with misfortune until they witness it themselves.
Dennis (in the version I attended) is practically made for the role of Scrooge. Throughout his entire character arc, he makes us angry, he makes us laugh, and he makes us tear up with all the honest passion he puts into whatever he’s feeling at the time. Nonetheless, we are always by his side, trusting every epiphany he comes to and every decision he makes, because we understand his thought process and know where he’s coming from. He is the epitome of hope we may still have for humanity.
A hat tip to Jarvis is in order as well, for his ability to successfully morph into the three other ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-to-Come. Regardless of outward demeanor, you will always notice a hint of pain in each of these characters as they guide Scrooge through heartbreaking memories and bleak auguries. Interestingly, the performance that stood out to me the most was Jarvis’ Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come. He never speaks, but the permanent tormented expression on his face (each facial feature cleverly highlighted with white face makeup, bold red lips and dark eye shadow by Jacqueline Robertson-Cull) is enough to frighten and sadden you at once. His face speaks volumes to things that could only be understated by words.
I am amazed by the attention to detail in this play. The lighting design by Alan Brodie is something to behold; when I first saw Marley emerge from the trapdoor, it looked as though there was a green glow surrounding his body, making him appear supernatural. The scene transitions are not only smooth, but are also incredibly charming. The actors bring set pieces and props on and off the stage, each with a bounce in their step. I love the way they prance around one another, with smiles all around, matching the festive atmosphere of the holidays.
The strong familial bond between the Cratchits touches my heart, especially the actions of the children. Belinda (Zoë Brown), Peter (Alex Gallimore), Martha (Eleanor Guy) and Tiny Tim (Antonio Raine Pastore) are all so affectionate, courageous and care deeply about what goes on in the household, just like their parents. Pettle himself is inspiring in his perseverance and positive outlook on life, no matter how times Scrooge brings him down.
If I had one nitpick, it would be that a couple of the actors didn’t project their voices loud enough, namely Sarah Wilson as Belle. Otherwise, she, along with the rest of the cast, executed magical and impactful performances.
This production is tantamount to a hug you haven’t received in a long time – you just need it. And it is one you’ll definitely want to share
A Christmas Carol is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, located on 50 Tank House Lane, until Jan. 3, 2016. For more information, visit www.soulpepper.ca