When Michael Shamata arrived as Artistic Director at the Belfry Theatre in December 2007, he brought with him the remembrance of a much-loved Toronto holiday tradition.
Since 2001 he had directed his adaptation of Charles Dickens iconic and standard bearing story, A Christmas Carol, for the Soulpepper Theatre Company, and couldn’t wait to see it staged in Victoria.
Now, after 5 years, the wait is over, and avid theatre-goers and lovers of all things Christmas will have the chance to experience for themselves a beautifully rendered and touching re-telling of this classic.
Over the course of one evening “tight-fisted old sinner” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the Spirits of Christmases Past, Present and Future, who soften his heart and make him truly see the world around him. A Christmas Carol is the perfect story of redemption, reminding us to reach out to our fellow man, now and all year long.
Most of us have studied the story, or seen it re-worked, ad-nauseum, in all manner of media, from cartoon to film versions, to comic books. Each one of us holds, in our mind’s eye, the version we believe to be quintessential.
How do a director and cast breathe new life into what could so easily become a hoary rendition, a simulacra of the inspiring values first displayed as a moral lesson almost 170 years ago? How does this story reflect contemporary mores?
Mr. Shamata is a thoughtful director; he has mined and refined the universal nuggets of truth within, and placed them in a simple and beautiful setting, under girded with exemplary acting and heart-warming flourishes of whimsy.
Set design by John Ferguson features one massive doorway, a portal to the past and future, through which much of the action passes. Lighting and projections create the many different scenes and backgrounds.
The inventive use of a rolling ladder allows Scrooge (Tom McBeath) to fly away over the rooftops of London, or Fizziwig’s employees to hang Christmas decorations. A similarly rolling table features throughout.
Against this somewhat stark canvas, costume designer Nancy Bryant has allowed her creativity full wing. Cast members play multiple characters over the span of Scrooge’s life, sometimes leaving the stage to re-appear mere moments later as an entirely different person, complete with wig and hairpiece changes. These details help to amplify the richly textured portrayal so aptly created by Shamata.
Adam Lolacher (Mr. Clenham), Kevin Kruchkywich (Mr. Fred), Celine Stubel (Mr. Fred’s Wife), Tom McBeath (Ebenezer Scrooge), Brian Linds (Topper), Amanda Lisman (Agnes), Jan Wood (Miss Jane). Photo: David Cooper
Tom McBeath’s Scrooge is deeply human, and troubled. The hard exterior on offer at the beginning slowly peels away to reveal a new more-compassionate man. McBeath does not hurry this transition, but rather offers us brief glimpses of a mischievous and humourous nature.
This levity is under-scored in many ways through the actions and stylings of the other characters. Spirits (Jessica Hickman and Daniel Fong) caper and cavort, striking poses that hearken back to children’s stories. Hickman’s choreography features prominently in the dance scene at the Fizziwig’s (Brian Linds and Jan Wood) shop and house, where levity reigns and the true spirit of Christmas is on display.
A brief moment in Scrooge’s past, when the youngster (Simeon Sanford Blades – also Tiny Tim), abandoned at his school at the start of the Christmas holiday, is fetched by his sister Fan (Lily Cave), carries an deep emotional weight that sets the tone for this piece and provides a glimpse into the tragic motivations of his character.
Throughout, the capabilities of the youngest cast members (Blades, Cave, Ajay Parikh-Friese, Amisha Parikh-Friese) are singularly evident. They may be young in age, but their professionalism is exemplary. It’s challenging for adults to play multiple roles, yet this young cast slips in and out of characters with ease.
Celine Stubel (Mrs. Cratchit), Tom McBeath (Ebenezer Scrooge), Ajay Parikh-Friese (Peter), Amisha Parikh-Friese (Martha), Adam Lolacher (Bob Cratchit) Simeon Sanford Blades (Tiny Tim), Gerry Mackay (Ghost of Christmas Present) Lily Cave (Belinda) Photo: David Cooper
The Ghosts (Gerry Mackay) are closer in nature (and costume) to the Three Wise Men of the original Christmas story. This choice will appeal to younger patrons, and removes some of the scarier aspects of the tale, without lessening the impact of their warnings on Scrooge.
The ensemble, many familiar to Belfry and Victoria theatre patrons, are adept at creating the necessary multiple roles. Each is carefully drawn, and complete, imbued with gravitas, and a pleasure to watch. From Fezziwig’s (Brian Linds) joy, to Cratchit’s (Adam Lolacher) grief, Belle’s (Amanda Lisman) moral rectitude to the charwoman’s (Jan Wood) avariciousness, Mr Fred’s (Kevin Kruchkywich) persistent concern to Mrs. Cratchit’s (Celine Stubel) abiding love – each moment stands separate and distinct, a bead on the chain of the transformative narrative.
Offer yourself the gift of theatre for the holiday season. Allow the truths written by Dickens over a century and a half ago, and brought to life so magically by this magnificent team, to work on your heart this Christmas.
Families take note – For the run of A Christmas Carol the Belfry is offering a family ticket pack. For $80 (+ HST) patrons can get tickets for two adults and two children (or one adult and three children) for any performance of A Christmas Carol. The show is recommended for kids age six and up. Sorry, this offer is not available online – please call our Box Office at 250-385-6815 to book.
Additional (free) events:
To deepen the play-going experience, The Belfry has partnered with CBC Radio and the Greater Victoria Public Library to create a series of engaging free events including:
Saturday, November 10 at 11 am
Join CBC radio’s morning host Gregor Craigie for a live talk-show featuring artists from our production of A Christmas Carol and experts fromVictoria talking about all things Dickens and Victorian.
Listen to the program here:
Monday, November 26 at 7 pm
After our standing room only event in October, five fast, furious and fun GVPL librarians return. They’ll let their hair down, take off their glasses and speed review books and DVDs for giving – just in time for the holidays.
Greater Victoria Public Library Talks (More Than A Ghost Story)
Cast members and local history experts will be giving talks about Dickens, his time and A Christmas Carol. Talks are at 12 noon at the following branches:
- Goudy Branch, 119-755 Goldstream Ave(Tuesday, November 20)
- Central Saanich Branch, 1209 Clarke Road, BrentwoodBay(Thursday, November 22)
- EsquimaltBranch, 1231 Esquimalt Road(Tuesday, November 27)
- Juan de Fuca Branch,1759 Island Highway(Thursday, November 29).
Cast and Artists
Tom McBeath Ebenezer Scrooge
Gerry Mackay Jacob Marley
Lily Cave Fan / Belinda
Daniel Fong Spirit
Jessica Hickman Spirit
Kevin Kruchkywich Mr. Fred
Brian Linds Mr. Fezziwig
Amanda Lisman Belle
Adam Lolacher Bob Cratchit
Ajay Parikh-Friese Peter
Amisha Parikh-Friese Martha
Simeon Sanford Blades Tiny Tim
Celine Stubel Mrs. Cratchit
Jan Wood Mrs. Fezziwig
Michael Shamata Director / Adaptor
Kim Harvey Assistant Director
John Ferguson Designer
Nancy Bryant Costume Designer
Alan Brodie Lighting Designer
Geordie Haley Composer
Jessica Hickman ChoreographerPreviews/Tuesdays at 8 pm $25
Tickets $30 to $40 through the Belfry Box Office 250-385-6815 or online
Disclaimer: I was offered complimentary tickets to attend the opening night of this play. I was not paid to write a review nor was I required to do so. As always, I retain editorial control over all the content published on this blog.