A Christmas Carol opened this past Saturday at the Royal George Theatre as part of the Shaw Festival’s first Holiday Season.
This production marks the third time Tim Carroll’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol has been set upon the stage at the Shaw Festival. Carroll originally adapted and directed his version of A Christmas Carol in 2017 as the Shaw’s first Holiday show.
Molly Atkinson’s familiarity with this adaptation began as assistant director to Carroll for the sold-out run in 2017 and continued when she became the director of the sold-out production in 2018. With the success of the two previous shows, A Christmas Carol has returned this November as part of the Shaw Festival’s first Holiday Season and Atkinson has again taken up the reins to direct this year’s performance.
In her director’s note, Atkinson reveals how she first came to know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge by playing Tiny Tim in a stage production when she was a child. Her love for the play continued throughout her career as she became involved in other adaptations and incarnations of the story.
Written by Charles Dickens and first published in 1843, A Christmas Carol has become a classic, familiar to all of us. Many different adaptations of the story permeate popular culture in all media such as stage plays, musicals, radio plays, movies and even an opera. Some more traditional versions of Scrooge feature actors such as Alistair Sims, Patrick Stewart and George C. Scott. Musical versions have starred Albert Finney, Tony Randall, Roddy McDowall, Tim Curry, and Roger Daltrey. Over the years, there have been animated versions, with Fred Flintstone or Mr. Magoo in the role of Ebenezer. Disney has its own version starring Scrooge McDuck opposite Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit, in Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Barbie’s sister Kelly even played a Scrooge-like role in Barbie’s version. Other female Scrooges have been played by Susan Lucci as “Ebbie” Scrooge, Vanessa Williams as Ebony Scrooge in A Diva Christmas, and Cicely Tyson as Ebenita Scrooge in the 1997 TV movie Ms. Scrooge. And the notable actor Michael Caine played the role of Scrooge with a furry supporting cast in the movie A Muppet Christmas Carol.
So how does a director make a classic story fresh? How do the actors reprise roles that have been adapted and interpreted so many times since its beginnings in 1843? Mainly by staying true to the text and the moral of the story.
Tim Carroll’s adaptation does just that and more. His version of A Christmas Carol is a reminder of what makes going to the theatre so special. As you enter the Royal George Theatre you are instantly transported into another time, place and era. With the plush, velvet seats and ruby-red walls, the 305-seat theatre provides an intimate setting for the play. The audience, positioned toward the copper-coloured gilded frame of the stage, is surprised to see the Victorian-era costumed carollers gliding down the aisles, introducing themselves as they pass. As the carollers reach the stage they invite the audience to participate in a sing-a-long of Hark the Herald Angels and Joy to the World. This introduction to the event begins against the backdrop of a giant advent calendar, and changes the atmosphere immediately from a formal gathering of strangers, to a more intimate familial feel. The carollers ease the audience into the suspension of reality and an atmosphere of merriment.
When one reads the original text, the atmosphere is more sombre and dark, but the theatre is warm and inviting — that is until Michael Therriault, as Ebenezer Scrooge, hits the stage. Therriault’s Scrooge sucks the warmth from the room. His Scrooge is resolute and unforgiving. This atmosphere is aided by a minimalist set. Yet, the actors playing next to him are warm and charming, enough of a juxtaposition of Scrooge to keep the audience content. Little jokes and gags run throughout the play. The flinging of snow and jokes about Ebenezer’s frugality add enough levity to keep the story moving without making it a farce.
The use of shadow play and puppetry enhance the experience. Alexis Milligan’s use of puppetry is delightfully unnerving in the portrayal of Jacob Marley’s ghost, and especially the Ghost of Christmas Future. The closer the seats to the stage, the fuller the effect.
The beautiful rendition of Carol of the Bells after intermission brings the audience back to the stage. In the second act, Scrooge’s transformation is slow enough to make it believable and humble enough to be convincing. A Christmas Carol is, after all, is a story with a moral.
We have something to learn from Ebenezer, even after 176 years, when the novella was written. Dickens reminds us we may get caught up in selfish pursuits, but real joy and satisfaction come with investing in our relationships, not our pocketbooks.
The last sing-a-long at the end of the play rounds out the experience, leaving the audience with all those warm and fuzzy feelings you expect from the season, and which can be lost as we trudge through fluorescent-lit malls promising bargain-basement sales.
Thank you Dickens, Tim Carroll, and Molly Atkinson for the reminder to make the best of all of our Christmases, past, present and future.
This performance is friendly to a younger audience, though members at any age will enjoy Carroll’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol, as directed by Atkinson. This timeless classic proves to be a delight for the whole family.
Two plays will be on stage to celebrate the season, with A Christmas Carol at the Royal George, and Irving Berlin’s musical, Holiday Inn, playing at the Festival Theatre, until Dec. 22.
Show times and tickets available at the box office, shawfest.com or by calling 905-468-2172.