Monday, December 04, 2017

A Tale of Two A Christmas Carols - A Christmas Carol Reviews

A Christmas Carol - The Old Vic Theatre - London, UK - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
A New Version Written by Jack Thorne, Directed by Matthew Warchus
Runs until Jan. 20th, 2018

A Christmas Carol: The Family Musical with a Scrooge Loose - Ross Petty Productions at the Elgin Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Matt Murray, Directed by Tracey Flye
Runs until Dec. 31st, 2017

There seems to be productions of A Christmas Carol turning up every December but this year, it feels like theatres are doing Charles Dicken's classic more than ever (including another production at Shaw Fest, another at Soulpepper). A tale of a uncaring miser learning the errors of his ways with the help of four ghosts probably never gets old but seems ever more timely in our current political 2017 world. I happened to see two new productions of A Christmas Carol that are opposing ends of theatrical style, yet both anchored in terrific performances of Ebenezer Scrooge, and ultimately both delightfully joyous theatrical events.


The Old Vic presents a new version of A Christmas Carol by Jack Thorne (still riding high from writing the new megabit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), with some socially modern elements (the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are women in Scrooge's life who control the narrative here). Some psychological explanations help develop our understanding of Scrooge's current behaviour (an abusive father, a terrible boss), but if this sounds all heavy, and despite a slight reliance on group narration (it never truly works unless the entire cast is perfectly in sync), director Warchus and Thorne manage to keep things beautifully haunting yet festive. This new take feels like the modernized version of a classy traditional tale thanks to Christopher Nightingale's gorgeously sweeping music, on Rob Howell's sparse but effective set that cuts through the Old Vic stalls with some surprises to spare.

Rhys Ifans, known best for his comedic roles in films (but was also a terrific Fool in the King Lear at Old Vic), gives a weighty dramatic heft to this psychologically damaged Scrooge, which also makes his transformation to the giddy joyous re-transformed Scrooge, all the more delightful. When we also see the women in his life, like Belle (Erin Doherty), the love of his life, move on away from Scrooge's scourge, living on their own terms, or Scrooge's little sister Little Fan (Melissa Allan) trying to save him for whatever it was worth, there's an element of showing how Scrooge's story can be damaging to those around him, but how they learned from his terrible ways to grow stronger. Ifans is also wonderfully contrasted with young Scrooge (Jamie Cameron, who runs back to the theatre boxes to plays in the band) whose innocence and naivety shows the sense of hope that had been lost (and then refound).


On the flip side over at A Christmas Carol: The Family Musical with a Scrooge Loose, Ross Petty's annual Christmas Panto in Toronto finally takes a traditionally Christmas story and brings out the silliness of Scrooge's fate into a zany tale that includes some time travel, cell phone apps, and Petty Panto regular Plumbum (Dan Chameroy delightfully in Panto drag) who turns out to be all the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Add in the ladies of Ghost dusters (I'm guessing to avoid right issues), and Jane, a counterpart to Crachett, who realizes she's not getting equal pay to the men at Scrooge's company, and we have a clever modern take on a familiar story, with some very up-to-date pop music thrown in as a good Panto would do. The jokes, in keeping with Panto tradition, range from the puns (Scrooge's partner Marley is that of Bob with full rastafarian mode) to the topical (a few jibes at the current administration south of the border, with a particularly funny zinger at Kellyann Conway's expense) to the downright obscure references (the Jenni Burkenstocks did get a good laugh from the opening night theatre crowd).

Written by Matt Murray* (*friends via other theatre friends so thus maybe biased, tho I'm also a fan of his Rumspringa Break! and Myth of the Ostrich), and with Tracey Flye's zippy direction, this A Christmas Carol panto takes us on a kooky journey we've come to expect from a Pantomimed version of a classic yet still feeling fresh and clever in its execution.


It also helps having Dan Chameroy on hand, and AJ Bridel is back from last year as well to anchor the central female role of Jane, but it's Cyrus Lane, usually known for his dramatic theatrical performances, who runs with this loose Scrooge. It's fun to see Lane get silly and show off his comedic side (as well as some dance moves). Between Lane and Ifans, two terrific actors put in their natural opposing types, shows that putting serious actors in the Scrooge role can pay dividends.

Photo of A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic by Manuel Harlan
Photos of A Christmas Carol: The Family Musical with a Scrooge Loose by Rachel McCaig
Vance at

No comments: