Charles Dickens’ iconic tale of the miserly and miserable Ebenezer Scrooge’s Christmas redemption is so powerful, so entrenched in our psyches, it can support a multitude of stylistic flourishes and eccentric narrative embellishments. I never tire of it and have not seen a production I didn’t generally appreciate.
And so, as expected, I thoroughly enjoyed this Shaw Festival presentation: their re-mount of Tim Carroll’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol—a restrained yet energetic pantomime.
This is my first time seeing the production, directed by Molly Atkinson (original direction by Carroll), and it hits perfectly, for the most part, on all of the important comic and poignant beats. It is designed to appeal to children especially—with some of the more heart-wrenching and grim aspects softened yet never diluted.
The actors warm the audience up with some Christmas carolling, inviting us into this shared space where our presence is made to seem as vital as their own. This technique is common to pantomime and, when done well, is remarkably persuasive.
I am particularly fond of cleverly self-aware theatrics, like having actors acknowledge their stage business. Here, they flip panels from horizontal to vertical, creating table tops or doors. My favourite: flinging fake snow into the air like confetti. This, specifically, is so charming because it not only draws attention to the artifice, it aptly represents what spreading cheer is all about— silly yet earnest gestures that create genuine delight.
The Abbott-and-Costello-esque dynamic between Scrooge (Graeme Somerville) and the Ghost of Christmas Present (Peter Fernandes) is another fine example of extraneous comedy that feels well-suited to this presentation of the story. I was also very amused by a running gag about a youngster and their kite.
Kevin Lamotte’s lighting is elegant and understated, his shadow-play flashbacks to Scrooge’s past are simple yet immersive. Alexis Milligan’s puppetry, designed by Christine Lohre, is the most stunning aspect of this production. The ghost of Jacob Marley is a towering, fragmented figure—top hat, coat and disembodied voice—looming fearsomely over Scrooge. Similarly imposing is the ghost of Christmas Future, a massive gauzy sheet draped over a scull and skeletal hands.
With so many well-integrated elements, the one baffling misstep feels particularly disconcerting. Directly following the grim and eerie graveyard scene, the cast break out into a version of “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” over the sleeping Scrooge. This entirely unnecessary number intrudes on the narrative, almost deflating the joyful catharsis of the Christmas morning scene that follows.
Fortunately, even this dreadfully incongruous interlude doesn’t tarnish the heartwarming finale. And, truly, it is enchanting overall. If you can get out with some children to Niagara-on-the-Lake this season, take them to see A Christmas Carol!
I just want to give a shout out for the Front of house staff that were so attentive and very helpful when we attended that show. (Front of house don’t get reviews but they should.) Great review!