Soulpepper Theatre’s A Christmas Carol opened in the Distillery District last night, delivering Charles Dickens’s seasonal message of charity towards the poor. Most of us know the story as a result of the definitive 1951 film starring Alastair Sim as Ebeneezer Scrooge, who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come. No matter how many times you’ve seen A Christmas Carol; however, you’ll be endlessly delighted by Soulpepper Theatre’s production directed by Michael Shamata.
Dickens’s holiday classic contains a prominent challenge when it comes to staging. Set Designer John Ferguson brilliantly overcomes this obstacle of depicting flying ghosts through the use of a ladder, which Scrooge and his spirits mount and magically circle the stage while looking down upon the significant people in Scrooge’s life. The ladder is then seamlessly integrated into the plot as a prop for decorating festive garlands. A ghostly white sheet, that seemed to disappear into thin air at the beginning of Act 1, set the stage for a spooky performance while the appearance of Jacob Marley’s ghost was jump-out-of-your-seat scary. Shamata’s direction of 19th century street scenes produced a surprisingly realistic effect despite the small stage.
One of the indisputable highlights of the play was a splendidly-executed country dance sequence by choreographer Tim French at Fezziwig’s Ball, which provided welcome mirth and merriment in contrast to the play’s gloomier scenes of poverty and want. Kevin Bundy as Fezziwig absolutely charmed, bringing the proper mix of warmheartedness and bedevilment to the role.
Many actors took on several roles including Maggie Huculak, who commandeered strong performances and particularly shone as Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s hapless housekeeper and the reluctant, but rescinding Mrs. Fezziwig. Anton Gillis-Adelman and Sabrina Nardi provided a precious moment of childhood love in their respective roles as Ebeneezer as a boy and his sister, Fan.
It’s been said before, but worth repeating: Joseph Ziegler metamorphosized into the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, easily making the transition from ornery miser to giddy, born-again Christian. John Jarvis as Marley and all three ghosts delivered an authoritative performance, more than capable of keeping Scrooge in line.
There is simply no better backdrop for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol than the Victorian-era architecture of the Distillery District. Walking out of the play along the cobblestone streets of Tank House Lane, I felt that I was still inhabiting Dickens’s world, and felt more open-hearted as a result.
Soulpepper Theatre’s A Christmas Carol is on stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 15 Tank House Lane in the Distillery District until December 29, 2012.