Review by Shelley Hampton

What the Dickens is going on at the Arts Theatre you ask? Dozens of people exiting happy and joyful, full of Christmas cheer? It’s the Adelaide Repertory Theatre Company’s absolute (Christmas) cracker of a show A Christmas Carol.

This production directed by Megan Dansie, and adapted by Patrick Barlow, whilst remaining true to the original writings of Dickens, is a fresh new take on the play, incorporating a great deal of humour, beautiful carolling and clever puppetry.  Patrick Barlow has cleverly made this beautiful classic in some ways quite contemporary, with comment on many social issues still relevant today.

Megan Dansie has assembled a cast of talented actors who also sing, dance, play instruments, do puppetry and play a multitude of roles. The costume changes are frequent and fast and each slides effortlessly from character to character and accent to accent.

This production is slick. The simple but very effective staging and set (Kate Prescott) ensures a fluidity of scenes, with actors changing on stage and moving set and prop pieces in the blink of an eye. Dansie and her talented troupe keep the pace going in a comedic piece that traditionally can get bogged down in the melodramatic.

Tony Busch as Scrooge is outstanding. The sheer volume of lines to remember is a huge achievement alone, but he develops a very complex character with great skill. He embodies every emotion. We dislike him deeply, have great empathy for his terrible childhood experiences, are moved by his loss of love and share in his joy, as he discovers that his life can be turned around. A masterful performance.

Following close on his heels is Matthew Houston. Houston is an extremely talented character actor who plays Bob Cratchit, Marley’s ghost, Young Scrooge, Little Scrooge, various children and a particular favourite of mine- Boy in the Street, complete with hilarious costume and lisp! To watch Houston is an emotional rollercoaster as we feel despair for him as Scrooge’s downtrodden clerk and see his family suffering at Christmas, through to finding ourselves belly laughing at his antics when he changes character. His performance is an absolute delight.

David Salter, likewise, plays multiple roles-  Frederick, Mr Grimes, Mr Fezziwig, various children and the Ghost of Christmas yet to come. Salter too, morphs into his characters with ease. A highlight for this reviewer was the very steam- punk attired ghost. His robotic and eerie voice were engrossing. Salter too, is a gem.

Georgia Stockham must come away exhausted from this play every night, as she ranges in characters and accents from a very ‘Eliza Doolittle-esque’ Mrs Luck, to Frederick’s singing housemaid, to a human Christmas tree in the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present. She explodes onto stage resplendent in red and green wig and baubles and shows why she is one of Adelaide’s best actors.

Laura Antoniazzi too, displays a breadth of talent in playing demure women typical of the Dickensian era through to a very formidable Ghost of Christmas Past. She certainly shows the range of talent she has, even performing on the flute.

Rounding off this talented cast are the two puppeteers. It could be very easy for these roles to be seen purely as ‘dressing’ to the play, but in this production they are very integral cogs in a smooth running machine. The artistry of Max Rayner and Jacqui Maynard conveys comedy, fear and pathos through the various puppets. Without giving too much away, the scene about Scrooge as a young child is heart wrenching. The ability to make a semi featureless puppet appear human is spellbinding, as we watch this raw clay Scrooge being moulded by his cruel taskmaster. Conversely the many door entries and exits by these puppeteers are hilarious.

Costuming by Aubade, Sandy Alexander and Isabelle Zengerer is clever and accurate to the period. The puppets, created by Claire Langford are ingenious as they vary from subtle features in Little Scrooge, to realistic detail in Tiny Tim.

Lighting design by Richard Parkhill, as always, is perfect for the varying moods of this play. He is a master of using shadow, decals and bright lighting.

A Christmas Carol was an unexpected gift under the tree. A brilliant show in every aspect that leaves one buoyed with cheer and joy.

A not to be missed piece of Adelaide Theatre.

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