Review: A Christmas Carol (Soulpepper)

Tried and true remount of family-friendly version of A Christmas Carol in its 13th year

The holiday classic, A Christmas Carol,┬áis back at Soulpepper in its thirteenth season. Scrooge, the loveless and stingy character, played by Joseph Ziegler for the past eleven seasons of its run, gives even more meaning to my favourite holiday insult: “Bah humbug!”

The play is showing at Toronto’s Distillery District, which has been overtaken by the city’s most popular Christmas market and huge lines surround the block. However – as noted when you buy your ticket online – audience members have express entry through a specific entrance and enjoy free admission day to the Market the day of the show. Grabbing some treats and walking around the market before settling into the theatre for the classic story was a perfect way to enjoy the play.

Most are probably familiar with the story, but I will provide a short synopsis anyway. Ebenezer Scrooge, a greedy and grumpy old man who hates Christmas, is visited by the ghost of his similar-spirited business partner Jacob Marley who warns him of his future. The play then shows Scrooge’s transformation as the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come visit him. They help him understand the importance of family and charity in the holiday season.

Directed by Michael Shamata, the play is presented “in the round” in The Young Centre for the Performing Art’s Baillie theatre. Actors enter from all sides of the room, brilliantly creating all the different settings of the play; a busy town square, a family Christmas party, and an eerie ghost visit in a barren study.

Alan Brodie’s lighting design was gorgeous. Candlelight, mixed with traditional theatre lighting, always delivers a feeling of perfectly dim and full of despair at the proper moments. John Ferguson’s set is always in motion, as actors push and pull props across the stage. A rolling ladder is used for ghosts to magically float around the stage or to help decorate for a family Christmas party.

I was struck by the scene transitions that were full of movement. Although they took me a minute to appreciate, as I’m not sure split leaps– of which I saw two or three – keep me in the play’s atmosphere. However, a major scenic change at intermission won me over.

Before the show, a stagehand asked a section of the audience – the one I was in – to remain seated for the first five minutes of the intermission. It was to facilitate a scene changeover and necessary because of the seating in the round. During the changeover, the performers were a perfect mix of speedy yet performative through movement. The small, thoughtful details of this changeover were appreciated.

My only issue with the performance is the seating. There is not a significant height difference between rows – which can make it hard to see the stage, especially for children. Two young children could barely see the stage due to their height, shifting seats with their parents multiple times trying to find a better view. I was also missing about a third of the stage, being on the shorter end of the scale. If you are bringing children to the performance – which I do recommend – be sure to call ahead and get appropriate seating.

The performance is kid-friendly, as the ghosts, which many versions of the play seem to be trying for scarier and scarier versions, are the perfect level of eerie for any age to enjoy. The diverse cast in age and ethnicity really opens up representation in theatre in a way that I find quite refreshing. I’m excited for the children watching to maybe ask for some theatre classes for Christmas after watching.

It was a highly enjoyable performance that perfectly encapsulated the heartwarming story. I could not help but smile through the party scenes and the ending transformation of Scrooge. The child actors stole my heart, as I am sure they do for many audience members.

It is a magical performance for all ages to enjoy. A great night out for the family to get into the holiday spirit or out of those grumpy Scrooge-like thoughts. The play ends with a call for the audience to donate if they can to various causes through the ushers holding buckets as you leave the theatre. A perfect ending touch!

Details

  • A Christmas Carol is playing until December 29, 2019 at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane).
  • Shows run on various days at either 1:30pm and 7:30pm throughout the holiday season.
  • Ticket prices range from $38.00 to $98.00.
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-866-8666, or in person at the box office.

Photo of Joseph Ziegler and John Jarvis, by Cylla von Tiedemann

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