FEI AND MILTON WONG THEATRE, 8th - 17th December 2016
My Two Pence
By Penny Warwick
"Reach out and touch somebody's hand, make the world a better place if you can"
There were some truly beautiful and poignant songs in this Vancouver Moving Theatre’s performance of Bah! Humbug! A show which is reinvented each year to reflect the modern times and the issues facing the DTES. Now in it's seventh year and still going strong (it was a boisterous, sold-out crowd the night I attended) you would be forgiven for being seduced by the initial joy of the Christmas-sing-along-warm-up; however, this performance did a stellar job of juxtaposing light and dark in it's ninety-minutes.
It was an interesting choice to have performers have scores/scripts on stage, it is something that I always find a little jarring. The narrator (Margo Kane), for example, spent a lot of her speeches reading rather than of giving a performance of the text. The minimalistic staging and costume design worked very well for this performance and the small band of keys and percussion did a good job of filling the space with sound and using their instruments creatively to evoke the right atmosphere during scenes.
Jim Byrnes gets prime billing here as Scrooge, and he did an admirable job, but for me the stand outs came from David Marr and Tom Pickett - whose Bob Cratchit added in a dash of humour which was exactly placed in his scenes. And if you've never heard Tom Pickett sing, you need to hear him sing. I have never heard such a silken soul voice, it feels like butterscotch rippling through the air. On the topic of voices, hearing the Saint James Music Academy Youth Choir adding in bright melodic segues to the scenes was a delightful addition, and they did a fantastic job.
Another lovely touch is the animated screens which are projected throughout the piece that illuminate the otherwise stark stage; although it should be said that sometimes I found myself unintentially getting distracted by them during action on the stage.
I haven't seen any of the other Bah! Humbug! performances so I really was not sure what to expect from this show. Ultimately, I was confronted and inspired in a way I was not expecting. It made me think about my everyday preconceptions and judgements, and for some theatre-goers this style of deliberately affronting theatre can be uncomfortable. However it is very clear that Vancouver Moving Theatre artistic director Savannah Walling and show director Max Reimer hope to instill a sense of purpose in their audience after watching the show, which I think they achieve.
To quote directly from the artistic director's notes in the programme "Some stories insist on being told over and over again [...] Dickens' advocacy for social justice, ethical transformation and generousity of spirit is just as urgently needed today."
Bah! Humbug! has now closed, however it is an annual event that plans to return for it's eighth year in 2017.