The Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, is one of the most beautiful in the country. Its interior is an architectural gem of the Victorian era, with a vast, cosy stage that provides the ideal frame for one of the world’s most treasured stories, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol was first published as a novella, 174 years ago, in 1843. Since then, it has been translated into plays, movies, and even cartoons. The story of the miser Scrooge, who is visited by a number of spirits on Christmas Eve, has proven both popular and timeless. In particularly, the coming of the spirits of “Christmas,” is foretold by the ghost of Jacob Marley, who in life was Scrooge’s friend and business partner. Like Scrooge, Marley dedicated his life to the acquisition of wealth, without a thought for the disadvantaged. Tormented, fettered by heavy chains of greed, Marley’s ghost now roams the city he once knew, tormented by the sight of all those he wishes to help, and now cannot.
Each interpretation of A Christmas Carol varies in tone from lightly comic to much darker, depending on who does the adapting. In this case, Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum delivers his own vision of the work, which has its dark moments, but is mostly cheerful, and intoxicating in its charm, quality, and inventiveness. Garnhum has a child’s imagination, and his special effects are born of a spirit that understands the art of theatre. He realizes the delight that can be conjured by a row of doll-size houses pulled about on wheels to mimic a neighbourhood or gigantic icicles that come down from heaven and rise up from hell. Garnhum and the Grand’s brilliant props department are masters of real magic. And the audience marvels at each new trick!
The opening scene is simple and dazzling. The theatre’s red velvet curtain rises and we are looking through a sheer scrim, at a massive, mostly empty stage. Through diffuse lighting we see snowflakes gently falling from on high. It’s as if the back of the theatre has been removed and we are looking directly into a winter’s day. Slowly, men, women, and children appear in full Victorian costumes, and we are transported back over 150 years, to the city of London, England. The effect is incandescent.
As a director, Garnhum knows how to cast each role in large play. He carefully takes individuals and forges them into a team, so that the characters move as one about the stage, like clockwork. The result is that when each actor has a dramatic entrance, a bit of dialogue, or a whole scene, the moment shines.
The celebrated veteran actor Benedict Campbell heads the ensemble in the central role of Scrooge. Aidan deSalaiz is Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. David Michael Moote plays several roles including a younger version of Scrooge, who picks making money over love, and the Spirit of Christmas Future. Alexis Gordon plays Scrooge’s young sweetheart, Belle, and other parts, too. One would like to praise each member of the cast, but really, it’s their combined effort that leaves an indelible mark. However, I will say that I suspect Owen Barteet will be remembered as the most perfect Tiny Tim ever.
Purists may balk at the liberties Garnhum has taken with portions of the text and setting. For example, the Christmas party thrown by Scrooge’s nephew’s is moved outdoors. Garnhum has altered the location and changed it into a “skating party”. He does so because it makes “theatrical sense”. Frankly, it’s breathtaking to watch a bevy of characters, in full Victorian duds, skating around the Grand’s wide stage amid piles of snow, the air filled with singing.
It’s amazing to watch the entrance of each Christmas spirit. Effortlessly, the Spirit of Christmas Present descends while standing on a chandelier or the Spirit of Christmas Past, appearing on Scrooge’s bed in a hooped skirt that lights up. And it is shocking to watch the towering Spirit of Christmas Future, walking about on stilts.
In many ways, we have come full circle since the time of Dickens. Today, people live in large cities, where increasing numbers struggle to find work and pay the rent, let alone find extra money for food and clothing. The divisions between the very wealthy and the poor grow more extreme. Worse, today’s urban architecture isolates everyone, rich and poor live in “cells”. The “cell” may be in a run-down high-rise or in a plush new condominium, but the overall effect closes people off from each other. Even on the street, individuals are mentally cocooned, reading e-mail on their iPhones, or wearing headphones, paying no attention to others or the view. Few have any sense of living in a physical community or any notion of “neighbours” or “neighbourhood”.
Dickens’ story is really a sweetly told warning that any society that looses its sense of “community” is in danger. Today, we are not that far away from the violence, revolutions, and wars of the 20th century, most of which were triggered when the few rich were set against a growing multitude of the desperate.
A divided community, where “mankind” is no one’s business, can quickly unravel. The Grand’s production A Christmas Carol reminds us of the healing and transformative power of an open and giving heart, and of the emotions that bind us all.
Cast and Production Team listed below:
Bob Cratchit SEAN ARBUCKLE
Tiny Tim OWEN BARTEET
Ebenezer Scrooge BENEDICT CAMPBELL
Mr. Fezziwig IAN DEAKIN
Fred / Dance Captain AIDAN DESALAIZ
Topper JIM DOUCETTE
Young Ebenezer / Peter Cratchit JUSTIN EDDY
Mrs. Dilber KELSEY FALCONER
Mrs. Fezziwig TRACEY FERENCZ
Fan LEAH GLIDDON
Belle ALEXIS GORDON
Belinda Cratchit MANYA HEGDE
Mrs. Cratchit RACHEL JONES
Abigail AMRIT KAUR
Boy Ebenezer NATHANIEL KEITH
Dick Wilkins / Fight Captain MICHAEL MAN
Spirit of Christmas Past BRENDAN MCMURTRY-HOWLETT
Jacob Marley PATRICK MONAGHAN
Spirit of Christmas Future DAVID MICHAEL MOOTE
Voice of Charles Dickens CHRISTOPHER NEWTON
Martha Cratchit JORDYN TAYLOR
Spirit of Christmas Present BLYTHE WILSON
Director / Adapter DENNIS GARNHUM
Associate Director MEGAN WATSON
Set Designer ALLAN STICHBURY
Costume Designer KELLY WOLF
Lighting Designer BONNIE BEECHER
Videographer JAMIE NESBITT
Composer JEREMY SPENCER
Sound Designer JIM NEIL
Music and Vocal Director JENNIFER FAGAN
Fight Director SIMON FON
Voice and Dialect Coach JANE GOODERHAM
Choreographer KERRY GAGE
Skating Choreographer GEOFFREY TYLER
Stage Manager KELLY LUFT
Assistant Stage Manager LANI MARTEL
Apprentice Stage Manager JORDAN GUETTER
Stage Management Intern NICOLE FONTES
Child Supervisors JEAN FAULDS
Production photos by Claus Andersen.
© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved