Review by Lucy Holz
A reimagining of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol has arrived just in time to get audiences feeling merry. A UK production and winner of five Tony Awards, this show is also currently playing at the Old Vic where it originated.
Each seat boasts a glossy program, actors walk the aisles offering mince pies, and musicians play carols from the stage as the audience enters. No expense has been spared to make this production an immersive Christmas experience. With a large cast who sing, play instruments and dance, this production showcases legendary Australian performers and newcomers making their professional debuts.
A Christmas Carol follows the transformation of a greedy old money lender, who spurns those who love him and hoards his wealth for fear of debt. On Christmas Eve he is visited by a series of spirits, who endeavour to show him the error of his ways before it’s too late.
David Wenham does not disappoint as Ebenezer Scrooge, capturing the essence of the role without straying too far into caricature. He is a commanding presence and leads the production with ease, showing us a transformation from cruel to generous over the course of two hours.
The show is scored by live music which at times threatens to drown out the performers. The most successful use of this choice is through handbells, played by the actors seamlessly to wonderful effect.
A multi-purpose set by Rob Howell features pieces that slot into the stage, ensuring maximum use of the space. Door frames rise up from the floor and set pieces pack neatly down like a jigsaw to create a flat surface. This deceptively simple design is flanked by piles of discarded lanterns, mimicking the many lamps strung from the ceiling of the theatre.
Lighting designer Hugh Vanstone uses these lanterns to convey a sombre London setting and later effectively evoke the feeling of Christmas. This versatile choice bleeds into prop and costume, with the Christmas spirits using a lantern to escort Scrooge through time.
The audience are truly part of the action with this show, asked to hold sacks of fruit, pass along links of sausages and even come onstage. We are treated to carols and dialogue from the dress circle and twice we are doused with soap suds, leaving us coughing and spluttering well into the next scene.
The ensemble of this show are strong and joyful, eliciting our laughter with ease. A variety of accents are adopted with varying degrees of success, but ultimately this cast brings truth and humanness to a story that is often cheesily overdone. The familiarity and fable-like nature of this tale make it difficult to avoid this fate, but the tight ensemble are to be commended. Debra Lawrance is a standout as Ghost of Christmas Past and Anthony Harkin plays the fearsome father of Scrooge harrowingly well.
The perfect festive treat to get you in the Christmas spirit, A Christmas Carol is suited to audiences who love musical theatre. Charming and full of unexpected joys, this family-friendly show warms you with the spirit of Christmas. Bring along any extra cash as this production is raising money for Australia’s biggest hunger relief charity Foodbank. A portion of ticket sales go towards the charity, with ushers also rattling buckets after the show.
Image Credit: Jeff Busby