A Gifted Retelling of a Holiday Classic
Originally published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become a holiday classic, shared and enjoyed by generations of readers, theatregoers, radio listeners, and movie attendees. It’s a story that is so familiar that the greatest responsibility of one mounting the story is to not screw it up.
With The Grand’s production of the Dickens classic, artistic director Dennis Garnhum, in his inaugural production on the Spriet Stage, not only doesn’t “screw it up,” but he adds enough elements of creativity to make this a fresh interpretation of the story — and one that will be thoroughly enjoyed by a modern audience.
A Christmas Carol is not a story that lends itself to subtlety or explorations of emotions — it’s a pretty stark concept that is rooted in “be good to people or be doomed to walk in purgatory, bearing the chains you have forged through your Earthly transgressions.” There’s not a lot of grey area in this morality play. But that foundational black-and-white view of life is exactly why the story continues to resonate nearly 175 years later.
The idea that just a little human kindness can change the world is one that’s comforting at this time of year. And it’s present in The Grand’s retelling.
A Christmas Carol is overall a solid production with some superior moments and performances. For many, including myself, Alastair Sim’s 1951 presentation of titular character Ebenezer Scrooge is the standard against which all Scrooges are measured. Benedict Campbell’s interpretation more than holds its own and is the fulcrum upon which the play’s success rests. He deftly moves from despicable and snide to fearful to heartwarming and sincere, all without seeming forced or losing credibility.
The secondary cast all play their roles well, but are more of a backdrop upon which Campbell paints his powerful performance. And the presence of a multi-ethnic cast, which often includes different ethnicities within the same family unit, is appreciated — the diversity is simply a natural element of the production. And the spirits that haunt Scrooge incorporate a clever use of lights within their costumes. The wraiths that accompany Jacob Marley are disturbingly creepy and work well to provide a sense of the depths of suffering to which Scrooge is destined to be exposed.
Beyond Campbell’s performance, where A Christmas Carol shines is in its dextrous blend of artistry and technical prowess. Scenes and backgrounds seamlessly transition; the sets are era appropriate and use scale to great effect — the grandeur and opulence of Scrooge’s quarters are reflected in the sheer mass of the background to his four-poster bed. The attention to detail in every set, from the offices of Scrooge & Marley to Bob Cratchit’s modest kitchen, adds a richness and depth to the production. The stage is often dramatically and wonderfully transformed, featuring wholesale changes of scene including a distillery environment and a second-act skating rink, with the actors performing admirably on roller blades.
The story is familiar enough that there’s no risk of spoiling the ending; a statute of limitations on spoilers must certainly expire within the first century post-publication, right? The cantankerous Scrooge is visited by three spirits representing Christmas past, present, and future. We see scenes of Scrooge’s life that explain the factors that led to his present — often accompanied by Christmas carols — and we see his dire future should he not change his ways.
Like the perfect gift, A Christmas Carol is expertly wrapped up, leaving all the characters and viewers alike satisfied and filled with the Christmas spirit. It’s a wonderful presentation that does justice to a holiday classic.