While admittedly daunting, Dickens' timeless A Christmas Carol is also about having fun for Sanjay Talwar

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Want to get our stories Straight to your inbox (see what we did there)? Sign up for our newsletter here.

      Considering he’s acted everywhere from the Shaw and Stratford festivals to Zach Snyder’s big-budget remake of Dawn of the Dead, it says something that Sanjay Talwar finds his role in Blue Bridge Theatre’s A Christmas Carol somewhat daunting. 

      “It really helps keep you in the moment,” the Toronto stage and screen veteran says, talking to the Straight from Victoria. “Because, if you think of all the things that you have to do, it will freeze you with panic.”

      There’s a reason staying focussed is a little more important than usual: Talwar plays every role—somewhere around 40—in the adaptation of Charles Dickens’ most famous work. That means bouncing from Ebenezer Scrooge to Jacob Marley to Tiny Tim to The Ghost of Christmas Past, and, even, to the London street urchin who ends up fetching an extra-plump turkey for Bob Cratchet.

      This isn’t Talwar's first time appearing in the Christmas classic.

      “I’d studiously managed, up until about 2018, to enjoy A Christmas Carol but never perform it in any way shape, or form,” he says with a laugh. “The opportunity never presented itself. And I wondered, with so many productions going on, how I’d managed to not ever get cast in it.”

      That changed a half-decade ago when he was called on to play The Ghost of Christmas Present for a Shaw Festival run of shows. There was, he acknowledges, a learning curve. 

      “It was my first exposure to actually doing the play on-stage,” Talwar says. “And that was a lot of fun, although I had to learn how to roller-skate for it—I’d never been on roller-skates in my life before that, which was fine because we didn’t want him too look too proficient.”

      Blue Bridge came up with the idea for a one-man production in 2020. When he first considering taking on the role, Talwar thought—perhaps naively­—that the job was one he was already prepared for.

      “I’ve done a bunch of plays where I've had to do more than one character,” he notes. “So it was like, well, this shouldn’t be too different.”

      Except, as quickly became clear, it was.

      “The exercise of learning the story as well as I can was, in of itself, a real task,” the actor reflects. “But where it hit me was that the longest one-person piece I’ve ever done was a 17-minute piece for an arts festival a thousand years ago. The thing that always gets me is that you’ve got no backup. If your brain goes to blue screen and you have no idea where you are or what you’re doing, there isn’t that helpful team partner to go ‘What about this.....?’ So you have to embrace the fact that, whatever mess you get yourself into, you have to get yourself out of it. And then it just becomes about keeping the story going.”

      What makes this outside-the-box version of A Christmas Carol work, Talwar says, is that it relies heavily on making a connection with the audience—challenging as it’s basically him sitting by the fire in a faithfully recreated Victorian parlour.

      “You are the only conduit, so you have to make that connection happen,” he says.

      And a big part of that is creating the feeling there’s more than one person on stage.

      “I’ve got some proficiency with some accents,” Talwar says. “So it's 'Let's see what the various characters want to sound like.' The rehearsal process was great for going ‘Okay, that’s useful, and that’s not helpful.’ And ‘That’s an accent that seems right for the character, but it’s going to be unintelligible for the audience.’ Then there’s paying attention to the physicalization of the characters, and putting that together with the descriptiveness of the words.”

      On that front, Dickens gives actors no shortage of gold to work with. Talwar admits it's a joy to be rubbing his belly while tucking into lines like, “Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch."

      A Christmas Carol has endured, he suggests, because it seems every bit as relevant today as when it was published in 1843. Dickens wrote it for a world where the gap between the money-hungry rich and working poor had created a growing division between the classes. Sound a lot like where we’re at today, especially in a Vancouver that seems to increasingly be about the haves and the have-nots?

      “It’s amazing how our more human stories can really be timeless,” Talwar opines. “If you look at the cares and concerns we have as adults in a functioning society, the details change but the feelings don’t. So I think it’s still really easy to identify with the characters in A Christmas Carol. Like a lot of stories around this time of year, it’s a reminder to step back and take stock of what’s actually important in our lives. And what makes them so timeless is that, whether it’s a mortgage broker today, or a money lender from times gone by, the same attitudes and cares remain the same. The idea of thinking about what our humanity is all about is something that never goes out of style.”

      And there’s also the fact that, while daunting for the lone actor in Blue Bridge’s A Christmas Carol, that doesn’t mean the production isn’t also fun. All you have to do is make sure you stay in the moment. 

      “On one level, yes, it’s the story of a the redemption of a man who’s perhaps lost his way and gotten too cynical about the world, and, on another, it’s a ghost story,” Talwar says. “And ghost stories should be fun, and slightly scary, depending on your familiarity with them. And the end of the day there are messages, but it’s really about having fun while telling a story.”

      Well, you reached the bottom so you must have liked what you read. Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more stories.

      Blue Bridge Theatre’s A Christmas Carol runs at the Firehall Arts Centre from December 14 to 24.