John Jarvis (left) and Joseph Ziegler won’t make you go “Bah! Humbug!”
A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens, adapted and directed by Michael Shamata (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre, 55 Mill. To December 24. $5-$65. 416-866-8666. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN
Back for the fourth time since Soulpepper first presented it in 2001, director Michael Shamata's adaptation of A Christmas Carol remains a fine, moving piece of theatre.
It's a story that could be dragged down by treacle - bah-humbugger converted to the true spirit of the holiday season - but Shamata reveals more of the characters than familiar screen versions, even the marvellous British film starring Alastair Sim.
Right at the top, narrator John Jarvis, who plays not only Marley's spirit but also all three of the others who visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve, tells us we're going to see a ghost story. But rather than being fanciful, the production is grounded in believable human motives and emotions.
Scrooge's (Joseph Ziegler) animosity toward his jolly nephew Fred (Patrick Galligan) stems from Scrooge's lost love and his inability to connect with others. The young Scrooge (Galligan) only turns miserly and sour when he's rejected by his fiancée, Belle (Sarah Wilson).
Ziegler's wonderful Scrooge at first has a pinched, puckered face that would do credit to a prune; as a reformed man at the end, he's giddy with glee. In between, there are glimpses of Scrooge's loneliness and touches of growing compassion. Jarvis carefully modulates the ghosts so that each has his own well-defined personality.
Staged in the round, the production features a number of other memorable performances, including Oliver Dennis's Bob Cratchit, Deborah Drakeford's Mrs. Cratchit, Kevin Bundy's Fezziwig and Maggie Huculak's dour housekeeper.
The show plays with the contrast between illumination and darkness, so Alan Brodie's magical lighting, both electrical and candle, is vital. Julie Fox's imaginative costume design for the ghosts relies on black, white and tones of red, matching the starkness of much of the tale.