Review: A Christmas Carol (Soulpepper)

Soulpepper brings a Christmas tradition back to the theatre for another holiday season in Toronto

Michael Shamata adapted A Christmas Carol for the stage and directed Soulpepper‘s production which opened last night at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. It is a magical production; spare and lush at the same time. It’s the sixth time that Soulpepper has presented it and the first that I have seen it. It definitely won’t be the last. I can see it becoming a Christmas tradition.

My friend Elaine saw and loved it last year and loved it just as much this year. The thing she liked best is the way that the characters come alive, become three-dimensional. Scrooge, played by Joseph Ziegler, starts out as a nasty old man only interested in making money for himself. Everything anyone says to him has to pass the money making test otherwise he dismisses it out of hand.

It’s fascinating to watch him change from that into someone who regrets the way his life has turned out. His giddy joy at finding out that it’s Christmas morning and that he still has time to get a turkey for the Crachits and go to his nephew’s for dinner is truly delightful.

John Jarvis plays all four of the ghosts. They’re more rounded than they seem in the book or the Alistair Simm movie. Marley’s regret at the selfish life he led comes through clearly in his explanation to Scrooge. The ghosts are frightening, they have a mission, to enlighten Scrooge. He is very frightened by Marley’s ghost, less so by the ghost of Christmas past. After the ghost of Christmas Past leaves he is eager to meet the ghost of Christmas Present.

There’s a large cast and a lot of the actors play more than one character. Too many people to mention everyone by name but they were all terrific. The children especially were impressive.

The accents were great. Not everyone had the same accent and everyone managed to hold their accents throughout the play. I mention them because I always complain when they aren’t done well; it’s only fair that I mention when they are.

I said earlier that the play was lush and spare. The lushness came from the costumes. I want Scrooge’s dressing gown, a swirling, flowing brocade. The ghost of Christmas present’s hat of light was beautiful. I found myself wanting more time to look at it. A lot of the plays that I see don’t really have costumes as such so it was a treat to see the period clothing.

The spareness is the set. It’s minimal yet highly effective. There could be a temptation to have lots of smoke and mirrors around the ghosts and their entrances, lots of flash and special effects. This production avoided that and was more effective because of it. The ghosts engaged us and our imaginations just by being what they were.

Scrooge’s office is suggested by a long table covered with books and papers. His house by an armchair and a candle. The Cratchit’s house by a table, two chairs and two benches. Lots of potential for our minds to fill in the blanks, something I really like.

The play is performed in the round so there are often times when one or more of the actors have their back to you. I like it because it seems more natural than having people all facing front all the time. The downside is that there were a couple of times when I couldn’t hear what the characters were saying. Elaine found the same thing. The actors must not be using mikes. It’s a small enough theatre that they don’t really need to.

A Christmas Carol on the stage – this production anyway – made the story far more real for me than the book or the movie or readings ever have. There were some very funny moments and some sad ones. I wasn’t the only person crying when Tiny Tim died.

This probably isn’t a show for very young children but it definitely is a family show. Combine it with a stroll through the Distillery District Christmas Market before the play. The lights and carollers will put you in the mood for a play about Christmas.

Details:

A Christmas Carol is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane in the distillery district) until December 29th
– Performances vary daily please refer to schedule
– ticket prices range from $22.00 to $68.00
– Tickets are available by phone at 416-866-8666, in person at the box office or online

Photo of John Jarvis and Joseph Ziegler by Sandy Nicholson