There’s nothing like ending the year with a standing ovation. It’s like a Christmas gift, if you’re a theatre company. And, for the Adelaide Rep, it was well deserved as a response to its production of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
Of course, it is not the Dickensian tale as such that is played. It is Patrick Barlow’s droll adaptation which cleverly turns corn into ham.
And then, it is director Megan Dansie’s magic touch with dancing, comic timing, fanciful phantoms and puppetry to tickle the funny bone. Not to mention her casting, which comes somewhere close to perfection.
This may be Tony Busch’s finest performance yet. He is a consummate Scrooge, a wonderfully whiney, mean man. His loathsomeness makes all the better his transformation at the end of this now classic old morality tale. It is truly touching. Of course, sweet Bob Cratchett is the story’s character counterpoint and Matt Houston makes quite a meal of the role, using artful physicality in an oversized and shabby suit to evoke a sense of the poignancy of long-suffering diligence. However, Cratchett is not Houston’s only role. He is multiple Cratchetts and Scrooges and he leaps skilfully and amusingly from character to character. He is not alone in playing multitudinous parts. At times, this modest cast with its wealth of witty puppetry veritably crowds the stage out. It is immense fun and the audience thrives on every scene as extortionate and loveless old Scrooge is dragged through the netherworld of ghostly replays of things which eventually transform him from heartless sod to philanthropist.
David Salter could play this show as an audition reel for almost any part in showbiz. He gives his superlative all to each and every character, from ever-loving family man to sadistic teacher. And he plays a bit of accordion for good measure. Georgia Stockham seems eminently at home in the broad Cockney culture of 1843, from heartbreakingly impoverished Mrs Lack to a wild and zany ghost in Christmas-theme hoops. Laura Antoniazzi gets the sweeter parts and, oh, what undulating eeriness she imparts to the Ghost of Christmas Past. Max Rayner and Jacqui Maynard complete this all-class cast, filling in as extras and gliding about quickly to move the sets and handle puppets. Door-moving is a comedy routine all of its own in this lovely piece of Christmas diversion. There are songs and vignettes, outright silly moments and tender scenes all played out on an austere stage on which the set-pieces are ever on the move. Indeed, the efficiency of set movements is another sign of the discipline and taut teamwork of Megan Dansie’s cast. She’s a good director. She has a good team. This is a good show.
Give yourselves a Christmas present and buy a ticket.