Merry is not quite the word for A CHRISTMAS CAROL playing during the Festive Season at Belvoir. The show is definitely Christmassy, definitely snowy, but it is the faithfulness to the original text which gives the show its dimension. Modernised in places and with Australian accents, the production retains the Dickensian darkness to give a depth of thought to stay with you after the flurry has melted away.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Robert Menzies) is hunched over a large ledger when the audience enters the space. Bob Cratchit (Steve Rodgers) is working faithfully beside him. After an uncomfortable visit from his nephew Fred (Eden Falk), Scrooge reluctantly closes up for the day and heads home to his bed as Bob joyfully heads home to his family. It is at 1 am, in bed, that Scrooge encounters the tortured ghost of his dead business partner, Marley (Peter Carroll).
Rest will not come easy to Scrooge on this Christmas Eve. He will be visited by Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future. These apparitions bring him back to the love of humanity he knew as a small boy. In this way, will he avoid the fate of his dead partner?
Redemption is at the heart of the story and there is no avoiding the fact that some scenes can be confronting. What would A CHRISTMAS CAROL be without a terrifying Marley or a heartbreaking Tiny Tim (Miranda Tapsell)? There were lots of children in the audience and a few were audibly upset by the appearance of Marley but it seemed to settle and the ending is uplifting for all.
Yes, we all left with smiles and laughter and snow about our person.
Carroll, white and spooky, pops up from the trap closest to the seats. This is a stage full of big and small trapdoors, replete with perfectly timed appearances of people and things. Set Designer Michael Hankin has created a Christmas wonder by stripping out the space and bringing in a raised and raked stage. The entrances are from every corner, door and tunnel. The cast carry on, or become, the props and set and the element of surprise is part of the fun. Christmas Present (Kate Box) explodes onto the bare set in glorious gold tinsel.
Hurling towards the audience, apples dropped from a crate are mesmerising to watch as they create chaos. As does the snow. It’s everywhere. On the seats as we enter for the kids to play with… and some adults. It comes in with the characters and is dumped with split second timing from the overhead cradles. One of the early laughs of the show is when Cratchit opens a trap to get a dustpan and brush to ineffectually try and clean it up.
Rodgers is so much fun in the beginning of this show. His mime work for the first little while is hilarious and gives the quiet time for the character of Scrooge to solidify. The very first laugh is when Scrooge says ‘Humbug’. The sure hand of Director Anne-Louise Sarks doesn’t make us wait!
In Scrooge, we have the main character of the story but this is a wonderful ensemble cast with Ivan Donato, and Ursula Yovich rounding out the group. They all play a variety of roles around Scrooge who has his own journey to wonderment. The audience travels with him to see what he sees and feel what he feels.
Scrooge’s awakening begins with Tiny Tim, after enduring the dark and sober Christmas Past. The initial Cratchit family scene is absorbing and heart-warming. It’s busy and noisy and it pulls the audience in to give the satisfying emotional moments which drive the joy of the piece. All the cast are terrific and they work together to embody the highs and lows which create theatre of substance.
There is an overwhelming spirit of love in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The stage is bare, the costumes (Mel Page) are brownish, the lighting (Benjamin Cisterne) effectively uses cold steels but it feels warm. By the finale when we are treated to a superb, four part a Capella carol we are desperate to sing along.
Music (Stefan Gregory), as you would expect, is an important element of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. There is singing of familiar and new tunes both on stage and in the tunnel. But the audio is more than that. Echo and reverberation make Christmas Past spooky and scary and the bass rumble from under the seating gives a tangible power to Scrooge’s experiences.
All in all, it’s just a cohesive piece of theatre retold brilliantly.
Season’s Greetings are exchanged in the foyer as we shake off the excess snow, the kids share their views on the scary and funny bits and the joy of the event stays with the grown-ups even as we wander out into the hot night. Merry Christmas to all!
A CHRISTMAS CAROL continues at Belvoir until 24th December.
For more about A Christmas Carol @ Belvoir, visit http://belvoir.com.au/productions/a-christmas-carol/