Review: Soulpepper Presents 'A Christmas Carol'

Paul Love

  • Associate Toronto Critic

Like Sherlock Holmes, Ebenezer Scrooge is a character whose renown has seemingly outgrown his source material. His grumpy “Bah humbug!” has become as well-known a catch phrase as any in the realm of theatre. Soulpepper is currently taking theatregoers on their annual journey to 19th century London to experience Michael Shamata’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, amid the hustle and bustle of Toronto’s Christmas Market in the beautiful Distillery District.

Soulpepper performing “A Christmas Carol” has become an annual tradition, and it is no surprise that the company has worked this production into a gorgeous, flawlessly executed piece of theatre.

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Director Michael Shamata and the Remount Director, Joseph Ziegler — who also plays the iconic Scrooge (no rest for the wicked indeed!) — make excellent use of the theatre-in-the-round setup, with the always-flowing action flying in and out of all four corners of the stage. The mostly bare stage is perfect for enhancing moments of loss, desolation, and loneliness felt by many of the play’s characters. The directors are particularly gifted at staging moments of chaos and hubbub, which matches beautifully with Timothy French and Monica Dottor’s enchanting choreography. The bare set is powerfully contrasted by the rich detail of John Ferguson’s and Julie Fox’s costumes. It was particularly refreshing to see a Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come who didn’t look like the grim reaper, yet still managed to be frightening in appearance. Alan Brodie’s lighting design was powerful and effective; the cone of light above Scrooge, projecting a clock onto the floor around him was a particularly memorable moment that my eight-year-old son was gushing about at intermission and well after we had left the theatre.

The idea of having the same actor portray all four ghosts is a clever way of creating an almost familial connection between them, and adds just a hint of credence to the notion that Scrooge’s interactions with these ghosts (Marley included) took place entirely in his mind. This puts great pressure on the actor tasked with these four pivotal roles, so thankfully John Jarvis was more than up to the task, creating each ghost as its own distinct, fully realized character. It is in the moments where the ghosts watch Scrooge closely, calculating the effect his visions of past, present, and future are having on him, that the lovely nuances in Mr. Jarvis’s performance can be witnessed.

Jordan Pettle’s deeply emotional portrayal of Bob Cratchit is a thing of wonder. His cheerful insistence that life is good, accentuated by his undying optimism, fights with the weariness we see in his movements and hear in his voice. Mr. Pettle truly shines in the moment where he is eulogizing Tiny Tim. I would question the need for Tiny Tim’s body to be present in this moment were it not for the emotional power of seeing Cratchit clutching Tim’s hand and collapsing in grief at his child’s side.

Kevin Bundy delights with his performance of Mr. Fezziwig, presenting a character with boundless energy and endless good cheer without ever making it too much. Humorous tension-breaking moments are vital in heart-rending shows, and Mr. Bundy adeptly manages to create those lighthearted, funny moments.

I have seen countless versions of this story where Scrooge is played as a two-dimensional mustache-twirling villain, which makes his transformation harder to accept. Mr. Ziegler presents a Scrooge who has been stung by the world — a man who is filled with bitterness and has walled himself off from society in an attempt to inoculate himself from being stung by it any further. Mr. Ziegler’s performance becomes truly masterful in the way he gives us a transformed Scrooge at the end of the play without making him seem like a different character and without completely removing the damage that his years of greed have caused.

Special kudos must be given to the children in this production — Kaden Boland-Trowbridge, Clara Kushnir, Eponine Lee, and Tom Hulshof — for their solid performances. This is not simply a case of “they acted really well considering they’re all children” — these young actors gave great performances. Period. My son was particularly impressed by Tom Hulshof’s ability to convincingly play a dead body on stage. My son also “really liked the lighted crown on the Ghost of Christmas Past’s head”, and he thought that the “costumes were really good”, and that the “special effects were awesome, awesome, awesome”.

 

Photo of (L-R) John Jarvis, Joseph Ziegler and Cody Black (2017 Production), provided by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Show Details

The show is being staged until December 24th, 2018 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, at 50 Tank House Lane in Toronto’s beautiful Distillery District.

Showtimes are at 7:30 pm Tuesday to Saturday with 1:30 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays as well as some weekdays.

The show is approximately 2 hours, including a 20-minute intermission.

More details are available at www.soulpepper.ca.