No hum­bug here – Grand’s A Christ­mas Carol a real treat.

Grand Theatre has the mak­ings of a hol­i­day tra­di­tion on its hands

The London Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - JOE BE­LANGER

A Scrooge is a Scrooge is a Scrooge.

It’s all about the hum­bug. It’s not the skin and bones or gen­der that makes the per­son; it’s their spir­i­tual essence, as Jan Alexan­dra Smith proves in the Grand Theatre pro­duc­tion of A Christ­mas Carol on stage un­til Dec. 23.

Smith makes Cana­dian pro­fes­sional theatre his­tory as the first woman to per­form the iconic lead role of Scrooge in this adap­tion by artis­tic di­rec­tor Den­nis Garn­hum.

Whether by ne­ces­sity or de­sign, di­rec­tor Me­gan Wat­son’s de­ci­sion, in con­sul­ta­tion with Garn­hum, to re­write the script and cast a woman as Scrooge not only was bril­liant, but also makes you won­der why it took so long for theatre to dis­cover this truth.

In a flaw­less per­for­mance, Smith takes Scrooge to the lim­its of patho­log­i­cal greed, heart­less­ness, misery and lone­li­ness, en­sur­ing her trans­for­ma­tion to a com­pas­sion­ate, gen­er­ous, kindly and lov­ing hu­man be­ing would send the au­di­ence home with smiles on their faces, tears in their eyes and warmth in their hearts.

Smith joins a rel­a­tively short list of women who’ve taken on such male-dom­i­nated roles, which the Strat­ford Theatre kicked into high gear this year when cast­ing Martha Henry as Pros­pero in The Tem­pest and Toronto’s Groundling Theatre com­pany did in hand­ing Seana McKenna the ti­tle role in King Lear.

The im­pact on the story is neg­li­gi­ble, but the im­pact on the role is im­mense. Smith’s Scrooge is star­tlingly fresh. Her ven­omous side is so tightly wound the ten­sion is pal­pa­ble, re­lieved only by a cou­ple of beau­ti­fully staged scenes — the ar­rival of Ja­cob Mar­ley’s ghost and the Christ­mas party Mr. Fezzi­wig throws for his em­ploy­ees.

Ten of the 21 ac­tors on stage ap­peared in last year’s pro­duc­tion of A Christ­mas Carol and it was ev­i­dent by the out­stand­ing per­for­mances across the board. There is no weak link in the cast of this show.

Still, a few of the per­for­mances are just so good, they must be noted.

Steve Ross is the per­fect Mr. Fezzi­wig, the an­tithe­sis of Scrooge, all gig­gles and silli­ness, teas­ing and warm, his per­for­mance en­hanced by Tracey Ferencz’s lov­ingly hon­est Mrs. Fezzi­wig.

Nikki Du­val’s comedic Mrs. Diller is a treat.

And Lon­don na­tive Ai­dan deSalaiz as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, is also nice con­trast to his aunt, warm, lov­ing, sin­cere, yet strong and de­ter­mined to in­fuse Scrooge — and ev­ery­one in his world — with the hol­i­day spirit.

Sean Ar­buckle is again per­fect as Bob Cratchit, the over­worked, abused and un­ap­pre­ci­ated Scrooge em­ployee, a loyal, kind, gen­tle and op­ti­mistic fam­ily man who car­ries his ail­ing son, Tiny Tim, on his shoul­der, en­sur­ing his young fam­ily (Anna Bart­lam as daugh­ter Martha, An­nie Cor­nish as youngest, Belinda, and Emma Cuz­zocrea as Peter) ex­pe­ri­ence the joy­ful spirit of the hol­i­day.

Rachel Jones is equally per­fect as his lov­ing, sup­port­ive wife and mother of the chil­dren, her worry and an­guish over Tim and the fam­ily’s mea­ger means buoyed by her hus­band.

Blythe Wil­son, who also re­turns as the Spirit of Christ­mas Present, gives an­other poignant per­for­mance of the spirit who dis­in­te­grates on stage.

But it is Smith’s per­for­mance that takes this show, which was fab­u­lous last year, to new and more in­ter­est­ing heights.

Her Scrooge gives the story more fo­cus and clar­ity through the dark­ness of her spirit and the con­stant ten­sion. The con­trast of Scrooge’s darkly pow­er­ful, in­tim­i­dat­ing char­ac­ter and the frail phys­i­cal­ity Smith brings to the role is de­li­cious. It is sub­lime to watch the bark, bite, bear­ing and back­bone Smith brings to Scrooge melt away in the fi­nal scenes.

The show is also a tech­ni­cal achieve­ment, some­how even bet­ter than last year’s pro­duc­tion, al­though the changes are sub­tle with a few new cos­tumes (the Spir­its no longer il­lu­mi­nated by light­ing at­tached to their cos­tumes), the stage light­ing, the set (it ap­pears big­ger, es­pe­cially the sky­line and the skat­ing area), the chore­og­ra­phy, which is cleaner, and the sound, which is crisper.

Garn­hum’s adap­tion of his adap­tion is gor­geous, in­tro­duc­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties to an al­ready won­der­ful story, giv­ing the theatre world two dif­fer­ent op­tions. There is some­thing to be said for tra­di­tion, like the an­nual stag­ing of The Nutcracker dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son, and Garn­hum’s adap­tions, which I’m con­vinced Dick­ens would love, should be­come that tra­di­tion in Lon­don.

It is a credit to the tal­ents of di­rec­tor Me­gan Wat­son that she has taken this show — al­ready out­stand­ing un­der Garn­hum’s guid­ance — to a new level of ex­cel­lence.


Ri­ley DeLuca, play­ing the youngest ver­sion of Scrooge in the Grand Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of A Christ­mas Carol, has a fan­tasy bat­tle with pi­rates. The pi­rate is played by Ai­dan deSalaiz.


Ri­ley DeLuca, play­ing the youngest ver­sion of Scrooge in the Grand Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of A Christ­mas Carol, has a fan­tasy bat­tle with pi­rates played by Sean Ar­buckle and Ai­dan deSalaiz.

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