A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Gateway Theatre, Until Dec 24th
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Josephine Lancaster
I must confess, dear reader, I’m a Limey, only newly arrived to this Maple Commonwealth. This outing to Richmond’s Gateway Theatre was my first venture into what the theatre scene here in Vancouver has to offer and, to be honest, didn’t really wet my appetite…
Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’: Victorian London in the bleak midwinter; carolers and church bells and chatter on the streets, and the crunch of frost underfoot, what could be more Christmassy I thought? But director Rachel Peake’s production evoked little of this. All but Scrooge spoke in their finest Canadian, the staging lacked imagination and, especially considering it’s adapted from a short story, the performance struggled with it’s pacing throughout.
The directed style seemed to be ‘say it faster, say it louder’ as, from the open, the play created few stakes and little character, from the rushed manner in which speech was delivered. Timing wasn’t really helped by an unnecessary Prologue, not even then poetically revisited in an Epilogue; touching on the “ghost story” we were about to witness. Maybe it’s me? Maybe you say ‘A Christmas Carol’ and I say ‘Marley was dead: to begin with.’ Surely ‘A Christmas Carol’ needs no introduction or plot outline? Just get on with the music…
… only, there wasn’t really any. What is Christmas to the British if not the food, drink and music! I’m not saying this is or should be a musical but where were the carolers and the carols? The cast did some small supporting coral work and a few times an awkward guitar appeared, but for me this served only to highlight the void of a missed opportunity than to successfully add to the piece.
Talking of missed opportunities, the ensemble cast of fourteen were bizarrely weighed down by 20-something actors, leading to odd scenes like the Cratchit Christmas dinner. All save Tiny Tim; mother, father, daughters, son, were interchangeable as actors, giving the piece the unfortunate feel of a drama school showcase, which is perhaps being unfair to drama school showcases. The cast was perfectly fine; which is to say, nothing too hammy here, nothing too wooden there. It was only really Linda Quibell’s Mrs Fezziwigs (and others) that I found any carefree enjoyment in watching. She had a fun, forceful, throwaway energy, which I’d bet comes from being the only older, experienced female in the cast. I’m sure she would have made a wonderful Mrs Cratchit, given honest casting. (Also, it seemed from time to time she was attempting a British accent, occasionally it may have sounded more Irish, but considering no one else was doing anything, I appreciated the effort and found it entertaining in it's own right trying to figure out her sounds.)
The staging was fairly minimalist; a pretty clock motif was painted on the floor, in the middle of a fixed staircase. Though with rotating “walls” to either side, the static nature of the space struggled to assist in helping create a sense of the hustle and bustle in the greater world. I thought several times, a revolve might have worked so well for injecting energy and movement into the piece. And, while there were levels in Drew Facey’s design, only maybe twice were they utilised in more ways than where can we put Ebenezer out of the way while action happens? Similarly, lighting and sound design seemed to have been forgotten about in parts. Times like when Christmas Ghosts first appear, I’d have expected a change in lighting state or some accompanying sound effect? Nothing.
Gateway’s production certainly wasn’t the best of times, but nor was it the worst.
By Daphne Cranbrook
Dicken’s A Christmas Carol is like a warm, plum pudding-scented hug. Whether it’s Bill Murray, Michael Caine, or the venerable Reginald Owen portraying the miserly Scrooge, the story is comforting in its familiarity. Gateway Theatre’s production of this classic stuck fairly closely to its Dickensian roots, filling the theatre with Christmas cheer.
You probably know how it goes: Ebenezer Scrooge hates Christmas. He wants nothing to do with it, despite the rest of the world’s attempts to persuade him otherwise. His long-suffering employee, Bob Cratchit, couldn’t be more opposite, striving to keep the spirit of Christmas in his heart year round. On one particular Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him that a life of greed and isolation leads only to an afterlife bound in chains. Marley informs Scrooge of a visitation that is to take place from three Spirits. Before long, Scrooge is transported on a journey through time and space, with each of his ghostly guides intent on uncovering where his Yule-hatred found its roots, and transforming his heart of stone into one brimming with love and generosity.
At the top of the show, we are introduced to the story as one of ghosts; true enough: three show up in short order. Director Rachel Peake chose to highlight the spooky undercurrent of the story with the use of sound, lighting, and stage effects. I found them to be a welcome shake-up to an otherwise humdrum and text-heavy adaptation by Michael Shamata. Peake also chose to let the actors use their natural accents, in order to allow the audience to (as stated in the program notes) “be able to truly hear the words and remember that we are not so far away from Scrooge.” Although I found this jarring at first, I eventually stopped thinking about it and was able to see how this choice brought the play into 2017, where Scrooges fill our headlines and newsfeeds daily. The movement onstage, too, felt fairly modern, and the usual stuffiness associated with Victorian England was nowhere to be found.
Russell Roberts was perfectly cast as the Christmas-hating, humbug-loving Ebenezer Scrooge. His journey from grouchy to gleeful was lovely to behold. Roberts’ performance expertise was highlighted by the fact that he was often surrounded by younger and somewhat less convincing portrayals. Allan Morgan and Linda Quibell, both veteran stage actors as well, added to this effect. The very youngest actors onstage, however, held their own, in particular Jenna Lamb who gave us an endearing and lovable Tiny Tim.
The beautiful and spare set, designed by Drew Facey, lent itself to movement and light play, and a general sense of location shifting, enhanced by smartly chosen set dec at different points in the show. Itai Erdal’s lighting design was sharp; in particular, the projection of a timepiece on the centre platform was poignant and striking.
Although published in 1843, A Christmas Carol continues to be relevant to us today, when it seems as though humanity has reached new speeds in its race to the bottom at any cost. Gateway’s production succeeded in reminding us of the true spirits of Christmas: generosity, hospitality, and gratitude. And though this show can’t be considered daring or unconventional, it is a heart-warming and cheerful night of theatrical merry-making.