Friday, December 23, 2022

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Directed by Michael Futcher. Shake and Stir Theatre Co. Canberra Theatre, until December 24. Reviewed by Alanna Maclean.


Full cast. Photo by Dylan Evans

THIS rich version of A Christmas Carol has all the theatrical enchantment needed for a pre-festive season show.

The actors are very much a low key ensemble but this is really a good way for Charles Dickens’  great morality tale to work its way into the consciousness.  And the grandeur of its visuals, combining 19th Century imagery with 21st Century technology sweeps the audience into this dark tale of a miser and his transformation.


It starts with faint low key carols at the back of the stage and pours in the music throughout, from voices and from Tabia Sitte as a sweet sounding, roving and very occasionally commentating violinist.


Then comes the set up; Scrooge’s dismal office and his dismally mean nature and his much put upon clerk Bob Cratchit and Scrooge’s unfeeling behaviour to a couple of his debtors.


Old partner Joseph Marley is the dramatic challenge to scrooge’s ingrained meanness, followed swiftly by three ghosts, that of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and

Christmas Future. (All of which seem to be played with great versatility by Bryan Probets. I say ‘seems’ because the identity of the last silent spectre is heavily disguised.)


Scrooge sees the past that made him what he has become and the future consequences that will strike unless he changes his ways. And what will become of the Cratchit’s frail son Tiny Tim (an evocative use here of puppetry and transformation) if he does not?


Most of us know this territory but what Shake and Stir do with it is masterly in mood and theatricality. Eugene Gilfedder’s deeply flawed and grouchy Scrooge is at the centre of a visually lush evocation of c 19 London. The scenery towers combine and recombine against projected and atmospheric images of town, of woods, of graveyard, of supernatural travelling and of the spirit realm.


Lost love, singing, bright faces, Christmas reconciliation, an improbably huge turkey and above all, snow;  this show has got it all.


There’s no interval but there was a strong sense that for nearly two hours the audience, of all ages, had not really drawn breath. Then the well deserved applause broke out. Well done Shake and Stir and well done Canberra Theatre for giving a seasonal home to such a powerful production.