The Shaw Festival has revived its production of A Christmas Carol yet one more time. What did you expect for the holiday season, The Murders in the Rue Morgue? Never mind.
Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella is by any measurement one of the best-known stories ever written. Every year there are countless stage adaptations of the story and we never tire of seeing them. Why? Because it is a wonderful story of a miser who is visited by the ghost of his former partner and three spirits and is transformed into a decent and generous human being. Look around you in well-off Canada (for some) and open your eyes further afield and the transformation of a bad man into a good one becomes a wonderful dream, fulfilled.
Tim Carroll, the Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival, adapted A Christmas Carol for the Festival’s holiday season in 2018 and it has been revived every year since with different directors and some cast changes. It has never ceased to entertain.
This year’s revival is deftly directed by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett who, along with the cast, emphasizes the fun of the play. Before the performance starts, the cast mingles with the audience chatting, providing some music and tossing a ball across the auditorium. We enter Scrooge’s office through a door – a board held by an actor, and see his desk, another board on the head of an actor. When the action requires it, Scrooge himself becomes “the door”.
The drama begins with Scrooge (a playful Sanjay Talwar) mistreating Mr. Hubble (Jason Cadieux) who is trying to collect some money for the seriously disadvantaged – like the hungry. Scrooge’s employee, Mr Cratchit (Andrew Lawrie) comes in for some serious abuse as does Scrooge’s servant Mrs. Dilber (Patty Jamieson). His nephew Fred (Jonathan Tan) is rebuffed brusquely when he tries to invite Uncle Scrooge to dinner.
We get the picture, well, we really know the picture perfectly well, but we are ready for the equalizer and, yes, the triumph of good over whatever Scrooge represents.
We start with Marley’s Ghost who reminds Scrooge of what he has missed in life but our man thinks that the appearance of his former partner is caused by indigestion. The First Spirit comes as soon as Scrooge falls asleep again murmuring “money, money.” He will see the Spirit of Christmas Present (Shawn Wright) who will make him face the present. The Spirit of Christmas Past (Elodie Gillett) takes him to the past when he was in love with Belle (Marlene Ginader) but lost her because of his greed and the last Spirit shows the horrible results of his tightfistedness. Yikes.
One of the Sprits appears on a trapeze, the other one looks like a three headed monster. We know who they are and we like them. Faced with Marley’s Ghost and the Three Spirits, we know that transformation and redemption are in the next happy scene of a large turkey (yes, turkey and not a goose) for the Cratchits, a pay raise for Cratchit, money for his servant and attending dinner at his nephew’s. Scrooge becomes what we want everyone to be - a most generous and wonderful man.
The production does not skimp on music and Christmas carols and we are treated to and asked to participate in “Ding Dong Merrily on High” and “Jingle Bells.” Paul Sportelli provides original music.
Where is Tiny Tim, you ask. Yes, he is on stage as a puppet, one of many including a rambunctious cat. They are highly entertaining.
Puppets by Alexis Milligan, colourful sets and period costumes by Christine Lohre, and a large balloon that looks like the moon work wonders in a minimalist way. The only major piece of furniture is a curtained four-poster bed that Scrooge sleeps in and sticks his head out as he is disturbed by his visitors.
The production’s success lies in showing us what we know well with humour, imagination, wonderful singing and a light atmosphere suitable for the season.
What more do you want?
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Tim Carroll continues until December 23, 2023, at the Royal George Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com/