No humbug here – Grand’s A Christmas Carol a real treat.
Grand Theatre has the makings of a holiday tradition on its hands
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.