As a huge fan of The Second City, Twist Your Dickens was an absolute delight to watch. Building on Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol, this production takes the traditional story apart, and reattaches bits and pieces back together using various comedic adhesives, resulting in a performance exceeding even the greatest of expectations. Directed by Chris Earle and written by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, Twist Your Dickens provides a treat for die-hard Dickens fans as well as individuals who’ve spent their lives living under a rock.
In the traditional Second City style, the production involves a cast of seven comical geniuses taking uproles of various characters throughout a series of vignettes. Combined with more traditional theatre, however, was Seàn Cullen’s bold depiction of Ebenezer Scrooge. Now, although Twist Your Dickens involves plenty of fourth wall breaking, I was most impressed with Cullen’s continual devotion and consistency with his character, never breaking character even when the audiences’ suggestions nearly caused him to crack; Cullen presented almost every line with saliva-projectile-shooting-vigor (sitting in the front row, I should have brought an umbrella).
Another tip-of-the-cap goes out to Sarah Hillier in her portrayal of Scrooge’s Former Lover. In one scene where Scrooge and MC Ghost of Christmas Past (Nigel Downer) relive the moment where Scrooge’s Former Lover decides to leave him for another man, Hillier reaches out to the audience to provide suggestions about the man’s occupation, habits, etc. Hillier looks at the audience with a look of determination, and beckons “yes, I’ve met a great man, he’s sweet, and lovely, and he works as a…” Confident and excited, due to my sick sense of humour, I yell out “PROCTOLOGIST!” Without batting an eye (and while Cullen visibly starts chuckling under his breath), Hillier proceeds to explain how she enjoys living hand-in-(very messy) hand with her fiancé, the Proctologist. The amount of creativity and commitment to the ridiculous suggestions she received – especially during the scene where she leaves Scrooge for another man, which was made up entirely by the audience – only goes to show Hillier’s tremendous achievement as an actor and as an improvisational artist. Bravo!
There were instances when certain actors would sit with the audience and criticize the other actors on stage right along with us. Although I very much enjoy this technique, as it creates some uproar and humour, I think the cast could have made it less obvious that Nigel Downer was actually an actor. While Downer played his role of an “Audience Member” multiple times throughout the production, he first snuck into his seat after the show had already started with a spotlight directed where he was sitting, making him instantly noticeable.
I think it would be both more believable and hilarious if Downer joined the audience with everyone else, and acted natural by occasionally exchanging words with a few of them, by doing this I think the fourth wall jokes would be amplified if there were no spotlights indicating Downer’s position and he just started randomly criticizing the actors without warning. People would have absolutely no idea of what is going on, and would appreciate the technique more once they clue in.
This is definitely a holiday show that will blow your socks off!
Twist Your Dickens plays at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until Dec. 30. Please see www.tocentre.com for a complete schedule. Tickets can be purchased online at ticketmaster.ca, by phone at 1.855.985.2787.