Adapted by Michael Shamata from the novella by Charles Dickens. Directed by Rachel Peake. At the Gateway Theatre on Friday, December 8. Continues until December 24
It’s amazing how culturally present A Christmas Carol remains. From Canadian Tire ads to Bill Murray movies, Charles Dickens’s story of greed and redemption feels baked into our DNA. I’m an aficionado of neither Christmas nor Dickens, but I was struck by how familiar the plot and dialogue felt.
The script is adapted from the Dickens novella by Michael Shamata, artistic director of Victoria’s Belfry Theatre.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Russell Roberts) is a mean and miserly one-percenter, “as solitary as an oyster”. On Christmas Eve, he’s visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner (Allan Morgan), who warns him against his tightfisted, maleficent ways. He’s then given the "Ebenezer, this is your life" treatment. Three spirits take him on a spooky tour of his past, present, and future. In modern terms, they’re creepy life coaches setting Scrooge on a new journey.
A Christmas Carol seems like a somewhat thankless task for directors. Unlike, say, Shakespeare, it resists interpretation. As at a Christmas panto, the audience wants to check off all the familiar moments, from Jacob Marley’s rattling chains to the eerie kids emerging from the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Plus, the story’s structure fights against a director’s best intentions. Ebenezer Scrooge is reduced to an inert observer for most of the play, affected by but unable to affect the play’s action until the denouement.
Yet director Rachel Peake, aided by Shamata’s brisk adaptation, keeps things ticking along. It’s a very musical show, with the performers contributing both songs and an atmospheric score from the upstage corners.
Drew Facey’s set is a cracked-open birdcage, offering a tidy, flexible playing space for Scrooge to peer into. There are some fun theatrical tricks in the show, from the gantry Roberts and Morgan cruise around on to an upstage portal that resizes from doorway to open vista with a satisfying smoothness.
The performances are on the hammy side, but isn’t that what this play—part campy ghost story, part morality tale—demands? Roberts is a very convincing Scrooge, and and Adam Olgui and Amanda Testini make the most of their time on-stage in multiple roles.
Those familiar with the story will know that, in the end, the Cratchit family enjoys a serious upgrade on its Christmas dinner. If you’re in the mood for traditional holiday fare, enjoy a free-range goose from Whole Foods and then come to A Christmas Carol at the Gateway Theatre. You won’t be disappointed.