Review: A Christmas Carol

Michael Therriault as Ebenezer Scrooge with the cast of the Shaw Festival’s production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by David Cooper

A Christmas Carol

Shaw Festival

Written by Charles Dickens. Adapted and directed by Tim Carroll. Designed by Christine Lohre. Lighting by Kevin Lamotte. Music direction by Paul Sportelli. Movement and puppetry by Alexis Milligan. At the Royal George Theatre. Runs until December 23.

’Tis the season to be blanketed with a flurry of Christmas carols, both the hymns and the many versions of the Dickens short story adapted for the stage.

First out of the gate is the Shaw Festival production adapted and directed by artistic director Tim Carroll (although he’s not credited with the adaptation in the program). It’s been years since the Shaw had a winter show, and they’ve never done A Christmas Carol, the classic tale of the miserly Scrooge (Michael Therriault) who hates the holiday.

Puppets factor heavily in this production, with varying degrees of success. The Cratchit children are full of detail and beautifully crafted by Mandarava Butlin, especially the one for Tiny Tim. The huge apparition of the ghost of Jacob Marley is created by billowing black material with a top hat floating above it, and the Ghost of Christmas Past is an overpowering expanse of white cloth with a ghost-like head. Both are particularly effective. The Ghost of Christmas Present, though, is played by a nimble Jeff Meadows who, for some reason, makes his entrance on roller skates. He is forgetful and can’t remember Scrooge’s name from one minute to the next, which wears thin very quickly (through no fault of the fine actor playing him).

For some reason, at one point in the story, two small balloon-type puppets of Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present (which look nothing like the characters) are substituted for the live actors and fly up over the stage to observe the moment where Scrooge’s nephew and friends are talking about him. Then they disappear, and Therriault returns as Scrooge to observe scenes taking place in the present that affect him. Confusing. In another scene, poignancy is lost when silhouettes of cutout figures behind a white curtain play out the narrative rather than actors.

Some of the action in this mishmash of a production takes place before a giant wall that suggests an advent calendar. Flaps with numbers on them (representing the days before Christmas) dot the wall, each one used as a window or a door in Christine Lohre’s spare set, like Scrooge’s house or office. A plank of wood balanced on a kneeling person’s head is Scrooge’s desk; Bob Cratchit (Andrew Lawrie) balances another plank on his knee to create his own. Then, when Cratchit holds the same plank in front of him, it becomes the creaking door to the office. As seems de rigueur in such productions, characters toss a handful of confetti in the air to create the snow. This business seems so “high school” and amateurish (no disrespect to high school or amateur players, but this is the Shaw Festival and one expects better).

Mrs. Dilber (Patty Jamieson), Scrooge’s housekeeper, makes lame Niagara-on-the-Lake “insider” references like buying Scrooge his jam at Greaves Jam Store and getting decorations at the all-year Christmas store in town—none of which get so much as a titter of laughter. These cheap jokes compromise the source material.

As is always the case when a production falls prey to the whims of a self-indulgent director, the cast works valiantly to lift it up. Led by the compelling Therriault—stooped in age and rage and consumed by ill will and irritation—the acting is terrific.

Carroll is definitely aiming to appeal to the lowest common denominator with this dispiriting production. He is slavishly committed to entertaining the audience, regardless of it being at the expense of the spirit of Dickens’ story. This translates into low expectations for an audience. If that’s the case, then why would they return for any other Shaw production?

One wonders, does Carroll think audiences would like his production less if it was better? I want it better. This production of A Christmas Carol isn’t good enough. Bah humbug.

For tickets or more information, click here.

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Written By

Lynn is the former theatre critic for Intermission, and currently writes reviews on her blog The Slotkin Letter. She also does theatre reviews, interviews, and commentary for CIUT Friday Morning (89.5 FM). She was a theatre reviewer for CBC's Here and Now for ten years. On average, she sees 280 shows a year.