A Rock Paper Scissors production. An Arts Club Theatre presentation. At the Revue Stage on Granville Island on Wednesday, December 3. Continues until December 27
The last time I set foot in the Revue Stage on Granville Island was almost five years ago, when it was home to the ad-libbed madness of Vancouver TheatreSports. Now, as part of the Arts Club Theatre Company, the venue hosts scripted fare.
It’s fitting that my return, then, is a mashup of sorts of the two forms. A Twisted Christmas Carol takes the public-domain classic by Charles Dickens and screws with it. Or, as they tell us off the top, they put “the dick back in Dickens”.
Charles himself (or a reasonable facsimile in Kirk Smith) rewrites the story with the help of the audience. Seated in the second row, he pops up from time to time to put a new spin on his chestnut. All the plot points are there; it’s the details that change from performance to performance. It’s more structured than straight-up improv. The actors are all on the same page, there are costumes and props, the sound and lighting cues are rehearsed, but there’s plenty of room for goofing around. Think of it like a jazz musician playing from the Great American Songbook.
On opening night, old Ebenezer Scrooge (Gary Jones) was given the occupation of gymnast. And from the there, the ridiculous suggestions kept on coming. He and Cratchit (Bill Pozzobon) had invented the pommel horse while feeding apples to horses in France. The Ghost of Christmas Past was Julius Caesar (also Pozzobon), Tiny Tim (Jeff Gladstone) had ADD, and Christmas dinner was a giant yam. There was an on-the-spot Christmas carol about decorating a tree, and a Yuletide poem to wrap up all the suggestions we heard through the evening.
Of course, with the improvised element, things don’t always go to plan. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was played by an audience member, who couldn’t quite grasp that it was a nonspeaking role. But there are no mistakes in improv, especially with professionals who know what they’re doing.
The show makes great use of a giant wooden advent calendar as the set. Doors open for beds, windows, ovens, cuckoo clocks, signage, and ghosts. It also provided for a Laugh-In–style curtain call, with the cast jumping out of various doors.
The cast, rounded out by the always funny Diana Frances, was so quick and good that one gentleman in front of me couldn’t believe any of it was improvised. The point was driven home when, not long after the suggestion of Caesar, Pozzobon appeared in a toga, complete with a laurel crown and dagger.
If you don’t believe it yourself, go yell a different suggestion on various nights. Dickens will never be the same again.