Despite the evident time of year, A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a play cleverly out of joint. First impressions provide an audience with context. There are Christmas pines upside down, rope lit with electric white. Yet, darkly at the head of the stage, the gloomy mirror dims their reflection.
This A CHRISTMAS CAROL is modern yet classic, contemporaneous yet true to its literary historical roots. In addition, it has a wide appeal. Both for those who revel in the season and those, like me, who try and avoid it. It’s seriously comic is places and serious in others. Thematically it enriches the watcher and touches the heart and I can enjoy that whatever the milieu and whenever the time of year.
The action begins with intent. Ghoulish makeup, rushing around and vocalisations make it clear that the ensemble cast don’t just bring the narrative. Based on the Dickens’ novella this is a work deliberately divided as per the original, so the first half hour makes considerable use of the chorus as third person narrator to explain Scrooge’s situation. They also value add when it comes to emotional context through well-constructed movement and staging. There is a section in this first Stave where Scrooge turns to the wall which it is expressly effective.
The ensemble is Aslam Abdus-samad, Dymphna Carew, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jacqueline Marriott, Monica Sayers, Bishanyia Vincent and Michael Yore. Henning carries Scrooge through the whole show but the others will become the other individual characters, the Ghosts etc. The ensemble feel to the production an important aspect of its attraction and impact … they are handsomely adept at bringing forth fog, trees, lamps and so on.
As Scrooge, Bobbie-Jean Henning has great fun sharing the humbuggery in the early part of the show and uses a dry wit to mitigate the unpleasantness of his journey. The arc travelled is well expressed and character clear in little moments well placed. Like Scrooge’s snarky behaviour even in the face of Marley’s suffering. There’s more reaction than dialogue but Henning guides her creation effectively through the interior changes taking place. Her face during the Ghost of Christmas Present song is really worth watching, a little summary of how I personally feel about this time of year.
There are some other great characters also. Marley is overwrought to a suitable extent; Christmas Past has a children’s TV presenter so rational as to be deadpan. Plus, there’s a Christmas Present who brings a distinctly modern magic fairy … with a wonky celebration blower to be extremely wary of. I, personally, will never imbibe of eggnog ever again!
A special mention, though, of the Tiny Tim character. There’s true power and relevance around the creative choices made for the Cratchet’s Christmas table. Tiny Tim is the beating heart of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and it would be appalling in this day and age to treat disability merely as a sympathy arousing plot device. This production chooses to contextualise TT in the present and, with an outstanding performance at its centre, the amygdala is satisfyingly massaged as the true message starts to hit home.
As the Staves progress through the play, there is an equally satisfying darkness that creeps in. This is a ghost story after all and the script, written by Melissa Lee Speyer, is carefully created to never lose sight of its origins. The modernism does not over whelm and there is a variety of techniques with which to tell the story and place the themes within it. Look out for the wonderful song at the end of Christmas Past … sure to become a number one best Christmas seller, it certainly had me clapping along while putting my life into perspective! Excellent choreo there and throughout: from the paroxysm of the opening to the rap homily about ignorance of want.
The script is unashamedly Australian, we have Centrelink and Medicare but our humanity as a nation is on trial with Scrooge’s. Trump does not go unreferenced yet Scrooge retains an antique sensibility in the dialogue, speaking of ‘£‘and ‘d’ even Half Crowns and with a gentlemanly air despite the visual context.
Excellent costuming uses a black and white faded woodcut base with occasional colour hits, most often of equally dull greys and browns. Buttons and clips and plaid and other terrific details are used effectively to cut through any boredom in design. Keeping the classic hat and cravat was one of the simple ways that the costuming expressed the dichotomy of the text.
The music is mostly played live by Miles Elkington and the implications of traditional Victorian melodrama are not be ignored. From silent movie organ to modern electronica it is sometimes single note counterpoint to the action but other moments are scored with contrapuntal cacophony. Spooky when required too with no shortage of airs that resonate memory with a certain discordance without actually having to sit through any Christmas carols. The modernness of the doomsday clock is excellent and fits nicely with the production concept from Director Michael Dean.
The lighting (Christopher Page) antithetically avoids too much drive around an gawp variety with the UV blue and white palette blending well to form the aesthetic basis of the plot. But audiences are not cheated of green and red.
Nor of felt antlers or a Rudolf red nose. There are some excellent production concepts in this A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I loved the use of the highlighted script pages early in the show and found the set pieces and props exactly right. Simple, easy to use and evocative. The 99c remaindered wrapping paper that gives way to DJ top of the line ribbon and wrap are thoughtfully fashioned to elevate story and theme. The turkey even has its own attribution in the program.
And so nice to have some comedy to send us on our way, with a sense that perhaps there is more to this time of year that what we see on the surface. A CHRISTMAS CAROL did give me the gift of reflection and it was a darkly comic way to enter my avoidance of the season. But “don’t get me started on New Year.”
A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Lies, Lies and Propaganda continues at the Kings Cross Theatre until December 24 for more information visit: