Review by Charlotte Leamon
Charles Dickens’ famous novel A Christmas Carol comes to life on stage through an adaptation by Hilary Bell which is heartwarming, ghostly and delightful. Starring John Bell as Scrooge, other cast members Valerie Baderl, Jay James-Moody, Emily McKnight and Anthony Taufa all work as an ensemble to bring this story to life.
A wooden, rustic stage is covered with drapes on the back and in front sits Musical Director Daryl Wallis playing songs on the piano as the audience enters. In time, the rest of the cast comes on and greets themselves to various audience members making everyone feel warm and at home. We all sing songs together in canon and as a chorus, which sets the mood for a joyful, interactive atmosphere as John Bell takes the stage to announce that they are all the Crummles, and will bring to life this tale. And so the show begins…
John Bell as Scrooge is of course a perfect match, and he exquisitely executes this performance. The sly grimaces, stern glares and confident stance are staple qualities of Scrooge which Bell replicates and advances in his own way very well.
This very famous tale is performed in pantomime style, with comic moments sprinkled throughout which are mainly produced by James-Moody and Taufa through their physical gestures and cheeky remarks. McKnight and Bader on the other hand flaunt their pretty voices in song throughout the show, with McKnight also showing off her skills as a flautist.
The staging and sound of this performance was beautiful, however the piano could have been louder in order to hear Wallis’ skills better. In spite of this, Phillip Johnston wonderfully integrated live performance of instruments and the use of microphones to create a tangible and ethereal sound world. Through scraping and hitting gongs and bells, microphones had echo and reverb effects so that the sound would ring through the space. Similarly, the use of chains into the microphone created a stark sound world that was very fitting for the nightmares that Scrooge endures. The costume team created wonderful Victorian style pantomime/circus costumes for all characters including pink silk and satin shirts and corset tops, as well as tights. This was in contrast to John who wore a modern suit, beautifully depicting Scrooge as the modern selfish man that is apparent in society today.
Overall, a beautiful story was brought to life on stage at the Ensemble Theatre with a wonderful cast and crew. It was magical and not one to miss, as a wonderful message is portrayed in due time for Christmas spirit!