Kyle Atlas Stahl, Tom McBeath in A Christmas Carol. Photo by Don Craig
A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Michael Shamata
Belfry Theatre, Victoria
Dec. 1 – 20, 2015
Michael Shamata’s A Christmas Carol is 25 years old now, getting on to be as enduring a classic as the Charles Dickens novella that inspired it. Toronto audiences first saw it on a wide proscenium stage, but Shamata has ingeniously adapted the show to the much smaller thrust stage of the Belfry Theatre in Victoria, still accommodating a cast of 14.
Christmas brings out the worst and the best in all of us, as Dickens so clearly saw when he wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843. Bringing the melodrama to the stage, Shamata has given new life to Dickens’ “Ghostly little book,” shaping dialogue and scenes for economy and speed.
And in this season of mass shootings, suffering migrants, homelessness and youth unemployment, the social ills of Dickens’s 19th-century London seem not far removed from ours in the 21st.
We watch this Christmas Carol the way we read it on the page; both writer and director, Shamata has conceived the show to engage our imaginations. Gerry Mackay frames the story for us as the narrator who asks us to follow the ghost light into another time/space. “Jacob Marley was dead . . . dead as a coffin nail.”
No separation can exist in live theatre between the dream characters of the past, present and future and the physically present Ebenezer Scrooge, played with aplomb by Tom McBeath. Scenes are conceived as if the whole theatre were our cranium. Blocking, choreography and some very deft stage directions manage the illusion. The first ghost arises out of a trapdoor in the stage in a column of misty light so he looks like a hologram. Scrooge stands high above London with the ghost of Christmas present observing the streets below: three performers encased in black puppeteers garb move around with painted streetscapes held aloft to give the impression of the city in the 1840s.
Nancy Bryant’s authentic costuming plays against John Ferguson’s minimalist set – a solid tall entranceway with a clock on top – to put all our focus on the characters and the action. Alan Brodie’s lighting design transforms the set from a snowy sidewalk to the cozy confines of the Crachit home on Christmas.
The superb Victoria cast keeps it moving from laughter to tears and a few opening-night improvs. Seven-year-old redhead Kyle Atlas Stahl is a memorable Tiny Tim; Anton Lipovetsky a pale-faced Bob Cratchit; Gerry MacKay as Marley and others is highly versatile; Brian Linds brings Mr. Fezziwig and several other characters to life as does Jan Wood as Mrs. Fezziwig; Amanda Lisman is just the kind of Belle that Scrooge could never forget; and white-faced spirits John Han and Jessica Hickman control the spooky atmosphere.
The universal appeal of A Christmas Carol is enhanced in this production. A theatre-goer could go multiple times and never see the same show twice: that is the charm of live performance.