Saturday, November 28, 2015

JACOB MARLEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL by Tom Mula.


Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula.

Directed by Michelle Higgs. Presented by Craig Alexander in association with The Street. Studio Two. The Street Theatre. November 27 – 29  2015

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins



Every now and again one comes across an ingenious, funny, poignant and original idea that makes one think, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” Tom Mula’s tale  of Jacob Marley’s quest to redeem the apparently irredeemable Ebenezer Scrooge is such a work. Of course, we know from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future are the agents of Scrooge’s redemption, but did we know that it was Jacob Marley, who signed the contract to ensure his own redemption and escape the ghoulish caverns of Hell. Such is the premise of Tom Mula’s engrossing Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.
Craig Al;exander as Jacob Marley in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
Banished to an eternity in Hell, the tortured, dead former business partner of Scrooge signs a contract to take on the seemingly impossible task of changing the intractable Scrooge. He is allotted only twenty four hours to achieve his goal and release the pendulous chains that weigh him down with every link of his miserably penurious life. He is accompanied on his mission by Bogle, a mischievous hell sprite with a sly will to see Marley fail in his quest. In a stroke of cunning ingenuity, Marley inhabits the familiar spirits that visit Scrooge, and lead him towards enlightenment.

Mula has channelled the spirit of Dickens to tell a story, colourful in its tapestry of characters, rich in its vivid prose and thoroughly engaging in its dramatic construct. Mula is the consummate storyteller, spinning his yarn with a thread that winds through the fires of hell to the dome of St. Paul, the counting house of Scrooge and Marley and the prophetic sites of the spirits. Marley’s foreboding intensity is deliciously counterpoised  by Bogle’s impish cat and mouse Puckish playfulness.


Craig Alexander as Jacob Marley in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol
 
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol poses an actor’s Leviathan challenge. Craig Alexander and director Shelley Higgs have chosen to perform the solo version of Mula’s play. Alexander is faced with the daunting task of playing all characters, plummeting at times to the depths of despair while navigating the treacherous course of his emotional rapids. In the intimate confines of the Street Theatre’s Studio Two, Alexander’s performance is electric, magnetic in its intensity, mercurial in its humour and relentless in its forceful energy. Mula’s two act tour de force demands of an actor exhausting versatility, vibrant imagination, physical endurance and keen intelligence served by a vivid imagination. In Alexander, Mula’s demands are fully realized in a performance that will have audiences captivated by an outstanding stortyteller actor. There is at times the risk of a driving energy that knows no respite, and only very occasionally does Alexander take pause to let the effect linger.  Marley’s account of his own abusive father offers a moment of deeply moving sentiment but bullroaring bluster can at times abuse the sensitivity of a moment. Reflection can offer pause to contemplate. This small quibble notwithstanding, Alexander offers a performance not to be missed.

Quite remarkable in this production is the use of light as a leitmotif in Marley’s search for salvation of his own soul and the redemption of Scrooge’s miserly, inhumane past. Suitcases hide moments of illuminating magic, while candles flicker and fade at will to reveal moments of awareness or the dark and frightening abyss of human failing. Alexander operates the lights as an integral part of the action in a setting of suitcases, ladder and lights designed to create an eminently tourable show.
Craid Alexander as The Bogle in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol

Audiences should be aware that this production offers a darker insight into Dicken’s immortal Christmas tale, but Mula has interwoven the spellbinding appeal of Dicken’s story into his original and clever conceit. We should all be comforted by the fact that Marley, too, though seven years dead, may also be afforded redemption, as may we all if only we too may listen to the spirits, ignore the sprites and deserve the words of Tiny Tim “God Bless Us, Everyone.” Yes, Tom Mula’s play also has a moral, but then what is a good fable without a good moral, and Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol is a jolly good fable.

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