This Christmas Carol is Good for Your Soul

Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol has become engrained in our cultural subconsciousness and our hearts since it was written in 1843. When a story is so familiar, sometimes it loses the power of its message simply because we have heard it told so many times, and in so many different ways. Michael Shamata’s adaptation, which he has directed at Soulpepper and plays until December 24th, 2008, is deeply rooted in the novel and creates a perfect picture of Victorian London. Shamata strikes the flawless balance between using Dickens’ thickly descriptive and poetic language to enliven the story and give allusion to the cozy act of storytelling, without relying too much on narrative or being didactic. Perhaps it’s because I grew up watching Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but at times I felt as though I was hearing the story for the first time, and I became acutely aware of what a brilliant writer Charles Dickens was.
The story is given its poignancy by the performances of the Soulpepper Company who bring rich arrays of emotions to the stage. Oliver Dennis is earnest and so good hearted as Bob Cratchit without making his gentle optimism seem unrealistic. Deborah Drakeford counters with a beautiful nuanced portrait of Mrs. Cratchit, an understanding and loving wife and mother, prone to worry, overtly frustrated by Scrooge’s miserliness and trying to repress how broken she is about the plight of her little boy. Patrick Galligan brings not only a sense of goodwill to Mr. Fred but a strong sense of longing to connect to the only family that he has left. Kevin Bundy and Maggie Huculak bring delight and exuberance as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig which touches the heart in bittersweetness. The children (Lauren Cambone-Mannell, Jacob Veninger-Switzer and Katie Cambone-Mannell) are all excellent. Shamata has given them much to do throughout to show off their competence as actors and their talents beyond simply being adorable. Lucas Tennen in particular, as Tiny Tim, is filled with the very essence of goodness without seeming forced, and his British accent is very impressive.
John Jarvis gives a tour de force as Jacob Marley and all three Christmas ghosts, infusing them each with their own physicality and personality. Joseph Ziegler is the perfect Scrooge, his journey is subtle yet profound from crotchety old miser, to a nostalgic old man trying to wrap himself in the warm memories of the past, recoiling in horror, and finally swathed in an exuberance and zest for life that is so contagious it will follow you out of the theatre and all the way home.
The direction of this show, and its use of light, sound and costume is nothing short of magical. The story takes its time to unfold which encourages the audience to focus on every detail and every moment and to appreciate the gift of play that we are so lucky to be able to enjoy.
It no doubt comes as no surprise to you that Charles Dickens and his deeply humanist values have always been a source of inspiration to me. The message in this story, which remains pertinent I think whether it’s Mickey Mouse or Kermit the Frog, is so important, not just at Christmastime, but all the year through. It is within the hands of those who have plenty to seek in whatever capacity they can, to help those who have naught. And those women and men who are generous and gregarious are rich in friends, in joy, and live life in exuberance. Soulpepper encourages its audience members to make a donation to the local food bank at the end of each performance, and I stand proudly behind Soulpepper and their charitable efforts.
Christmas can be a stressful time in the post-modern experience, and it’s easy for us to forget, if only in the short term, what is truly important in our lives. This show is a good reminder of how fortunate we are. Go forth with love and peace. [God] Bless us, everyone.

A Christmas Carol plays until December 24th, 2008 at Soulpepper. Young Centre for the Performing Arts. 55 Mill Street, Toronto. For tickets call 416 203-6264 or visit online at http://www.soulpepper.ca/.

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