A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Adapted by Nelle Lee. Directed by Michael Futcher. Designer Josh McIntosh. Composer Salliana Campbell. Lighting design Jason Glenwright. Video design. Craig Wilkinson. Sound design Guy Webster. Production manager Mark Middleton. Stage manager Imogen Millhouse. Cast: Will Carseldine, Eugene Gilfedder. Judy Hainsworth. Arnijka Larcombe Weate. Bryan Probets. Nick Skubij. Lucas Stibbard. Nick James. Executive Producers Ross Balbuziente and Nick Skubij. shake & stir theatre company. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. December 22-24 2022. Bookings:02 6275 or canberraticketing.com.au
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
shake&stir eheatre have staged A Christmas Carol that would melt the iciest heart. Charles Dickens’ classic tale of hope, redemption and the joy of Christmas has been given a superbly uplifting production of the immortal story of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation. In fact transformation is at the very heart and soul of Shake&Stir’s production. It is Josh Macintosh’s fluid design that is moved by the cast from the Gothic streetscape of Victorian London to Scrooge’s austere office or the Cratchit household and eventually to the cemetery before returning to the abode of an enlightened and reformed Scrooge. The eight actors too perform a remarkable act of transformation as they change from carol singers to a chorus, carrying us along through Nelle Lee’s concise and absorbing adaptation. And then they change from one character to another, capturing people from the past, the present and the future. Only Eugene Gilfedder as Scrooge remains in the role throughout, effectively charting the journey from intransigent curmudgeonly miser to liberated and compassionate altruist.
More than that shake & stir are true disciples of Dickens’ reformist ideals. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the Cratchit scenes, where Scrooge is confronted by the true nature of humanity and the oppressive reality of his suppressed nature. In the first Cratchit scene we see a family, bound together by love and laughter. In the second scene we weep too at the imagined death of Tiny Tim, ingeniously represented by Chris Lane’s puppet in this production, in a transformative moment that is Dickens’ cry for social justice and Scrooge’s bitter awakening. It is Shake & Stir’s Christmas gift to do more than lift our spirits with laughter and theatrical delight but almost two hundred years after A Christmas Carol was published to remind us that Dickens’ advocacy for reform and social justice for the poor and the disadvantaged remains the true purpose of the Christmas spirit of the past, present and future yet to come.
Lee’s adaptation runs for one hundred and five minutes without an interval. It is carefully and evocatively selective highlighting key scenes with a sharply observed appreciation of Dickens’ themes. We instantly dislike the uncharitable Scrooge in the opening scen as he bullies his clerk Bob Cratchit (Lucas Stibbard) and dismisses any appeal for kindness. Bryan Probets cleverly captures the idiosyncratic aspects of the visitations from the tormented and chained Jacob Marley, the eccentric Ghost of Christmas Past, the joking Christmas Present and the sombre and mysterious cloaked and silent figure of the Ghost of Christmas Future. Accompanied by amazing video design by Craig Wilkinson, sound design by Guy Webster, lighting design by Jason Glenwright and composition by Salliana Campbell, the production is an aural and visual wonder, thrusting our involvement into a digital age of mind-blowing and magical imagery and sensations. Actors and creatives under the captivating direction of Michael Futcher embellish Lee’s adaptation with technological wizardry and fine ensemble work, which kept the audience, both young and young at heart spellbound from start to finish.
In their earlier mainstage production of Jane Eyre in The Playhouse and now with their even more ambitious staging of A Christmas Carol on the Canberra Theatre stage, shake & stir have proven that they are a company of national and theatrical stature and that their work holds an important place in the staging of classics literary works while also touring schools with contemporary productions of Roald Dahl’s The Twits or The Fantastic Mr. Fox. As the snow falls on a glorious Christmas day in 1843, the small ensemble accompanied by Tabea Sitte on violin sing the closing carol of Joy to the World to the absolute joy of a cheering audience.
Photos by Dylan Evans