Theatre review: A Christmas Carol

This entry is cross-posted with blogTO.

For me, A Christmas Carol is Christmas. I'm not a religious guy, so the story's emphasis on the spirit (or spirits) of the season and distinct lack of god-talk really resonates. Plus, it has a bunch of ghosts and a time travel plot. Which, in case you were wondering, is totally awesome.

Suffice it to say I was predisposed to enjoying Soulpepper's production of Dickens' classic tale. But even if I hadn't been, I'm sure the excellent performances and nifty staging would have won me over.

Everyone knows the story of A Christmas Carol, so I won't rehash it here. But I will say this is an excellent adaptation of the original novella. Dickens was paid by the word, and his prose is filled with maddeningly dense, joyfully comic passages. Michael Shamata's adaptation revels in the Dickensian language without ever bogging down or losing the essential thread of the story.

The performances are also uniformly excellent, from the supporting players to the featured roles. But this is Scrooge's story, and without the right Miser the whole thing falls apart. Joseph Ziegler isn't just good as Scrooge. He is Scrooge. In fact, Ziegler's portrayal is now one of my favourite Ebeneezer depictions, perhaps even edging out Michael Caine in A Muppet Christmas Carol for the top spot. That may sound flip, but I love the muppet version.

Soulpepper's production also features some nice stagecraft. Tablecloths disappear into the darkness like apparitions. Scrooge and his spirits 'fly' on a towering ladder. A giant clock, created entirely through lighting, was also a nice touch. The sound design seemed a touch rough in places, and the play suffers from a few over-long, over-complex scene changes. But these small sins are easily forgiven amidst all of the other awesomness.

Soulpepper's A Christmas Carol is also genuinely spooky. Which is perfect, since Dickens wrote a ghost story about Christmas, not a Christmas story with ghosts in it. Too often, productions of A Christmas Carol overload on Christmas cheer, and forget to play the more frightening elements of the story. What these shows fail to realize, and what Soulpepper gets so strongly, is that when you're honest to the show's ghostly plot the holiday message is all the more effective.

If you like Christmas, the Holiday Season, Dickens, or just really good theatre, go see A Christmas Carol. It sure put me in the 'spirit'.

Sorry. I think everyone gets to make that joke in a review once.

A Christmas Carol continues at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until Dec. 24th. For tickets and info, call 416 866 8666 or visit Soulpepper's website.

Photo: Joseph Ziegler as Scrooge. By Cylla Von Tiedemann.