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A Christmas Carol

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by Thomas Day (subscribe)
I am an Adelaide based writer, passionate about sharing fun and interesting experiences, with a particular focus on live theatre.
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Adelaide Repertory Theatre's Christmas Carol delights
For many people, November is a special time, as several homes and shopping centres start to be decorated with beautiful lights and decorations, councils have their annual Christmas parade and Carols evenings, Santa makes his home in shopping centres to hear the wishes of young children, and occasionally there are drama productions which spread Christmas cheer, all of which mark the start to an exciting Christmas season. This year, one such drama production is The Adelaide Repertory Theatre's final production of 2019, A Christmas Carol, and it is the perfect choice of play to fully embrace the Christmas spirit, Sir.

Though there have been several adaptations of Charles Dicken's classic of the same name, this particular production of A Christmas Carol is an hilarious adaptation by Patrick Barlow (The 39 Steps). While the story of the transformation of miserable and grumpy man Ebenezer Scrooge into a humble and loving man, induced by the visits from three mysterious ghosts of Past, Present and Future, this particular adaptation is refreshing and contemporary and is told with only five actors and two puppeteers who share several roles between them. This results in a deliberately ridiculous production which is absolutely hilarious, as actors have rapid costume and accent changes, and deliver dialogue just as rapidly, with dialogue often used to comic effect.

Antonazzi Stockham Busch A Christmas Carol
A perfect choice of play, to fully embrace the Christmas spirit. Pictured from L to R: Tony Busch, Georgia Stockham, Laura Antonazzi, David Salter, Matt Houston. Photo: Norm Caddick/Richard Parkhill. Source: Supplied.

The success of a production like this one relies heavily on an appropriate director who can lead and coach their actors in effectively managing the rapid pace of the show, and on this occasion, director Megan Dansie is just the right person for this role. Dansie manages the rapid pace well, ensuring that the show moves at a solid pace and never drags, while still ensuring that there is time for the audience to laugh, and she also makes the most of each comic moment, maximising every opportunity for eliciting laughs, sometimes ones which last for minutes. In addition, the cast which has been assembled to help bring the story to life in a way that is refreshing and entertaining, is most adequate.

Matt Houston is Bob, Peter and Katie Cratchit, Marley's Ghost, Young and Little Scrooge, Boy in Street and Frederick's Children, and while Houston gives a solid delivery as mistreated worker Bob Cratchit, and is hilarious as Boy in Street, complete with a lisp, his portrayal of Marley's Ghost is particularly scary and most creepy, effectively portraying Marley as one who might appear in nightmares, though Houston as an actor, is anything but a nightmare to watch.

Laura Antoniazzi is Hermione Bentham, Constance, Mrs Cratchit, Mother, but most significantly, Ghost of Christmas Past. Antoniazzi effectively portrays Past as a sophisticated and confident Ghost, and uses exceptional comic timing to elicit laughs, whilst using skillful physicalisation to gracefully and beautifully "float" while both stationary and moving, much like that of a ghost.

Laura Antonazzi David Salter A Christmas Carol
Laura Antonazzi (left) with David Salter (right). Photo: Norm Caddick/Richard Parkhill. Source: Supplied.

Georgia Stockham is Mrs Lack, Lavinia Bentham, Mrs Grimes, Fran, Isabella, Martha Cratchit, Frederick's Housemaid, but most significantly, Ghost of Christmas Present. Stockham is confident and has an excellence stage presence, giving a sublime delivery which is most entertaining and hilarious. She gives much depth to Present and portrays her as a spirit who is exuberant, over the top and slightly eccentric, and one who would be most welcome to any Christmas dinner. Put quite simply, Stockham is a joy to watch.

Tony Busch Georgia Stockham Scrooge and Present
Georgia Stockham (right) is a joy to watch. Also pictured Tony Busch (left) as Scrooge. Photo: Norm Caddick/Richard Parkhill. Source: Supplied.

David Salter gives a solid performance as Frederick, Mr Fezziwig, George, Kate and Abigail Cratchit, Passer-by, but in particular, Mr Grimes and Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. While Salter is hilarious as cruel schoolmaster Mr Grimes, using tone of voice, pace of dialogue and physicality to good effect, he is fascinating as Yet to Come, using a slow, regimented and robotic walk and voice, to convey him as a mysterious and eerie character.

However, in the most pivotal lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tony Busch is exceptional and perfectly cast. Unlike the preceding actors, Busch never changes character, and therefore is able to give significant time to focussing solely on his character and the way he should be portrayed. This extra time has been most beneficial for Busch, as his exceptional delivery gives much depth to Scrooge. Busch provides a nice balance between initial feelings of anger, misery and sadness, but later absolute happiness as Scrooge learns what it truly means to love another, and in doing so, one can't help but love Scrooge, despite his grumpy tendencies. The scenes in which Scrooge learns of his difficult past which have lead him to become a miserable man, are most heartbreaking. In addition, considering that Scrooge is the principal character, Busch is on stage for the entirety of the show, and therefore deserves commendation for memorising so much dialogue, and on opening night, there was never a missed cue or fumbled lines.

Ebenezer Scrooge Tony Busch The Rep A Christmas Carol
Tony Busch is exceptional and perfectly cast as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo: Norm Caddick/Richard Parkhill. Source: Supplied.

These actors are also well supported by Max Rayner and Jacqui Maynard, who serve as puppeteers, door wranglers and ensemble. As puppeteers, they give life to inanimate puppets and skillfully manipulate them in such a way as to give them human emotions. In particular, their manipulation of the Tiny Tim puppet is quite beautiful, as they move his arms, head and mouth in such a way as to convey deep emotions of both sadness and feelings of joy. Though Tim is a puppet, one can't help but be moved by him and smile at his innocence, which is only achieved through the excellent puppetry of Rayner and Maynard.

Full cast
The perfect way to start the Christmas season. From L to R: Max Rayner, Jacqui Maynard, Matt Houston, Laura Antonazzi, Tony Busch, David Salter, Georgia Stockham. Norm Caddick/Richard Parkhill. Source: Supplied.

Though the preceding actors each deliver fine performances, the icing on this (Christmas) cake, so to speak, comes from the design elements of the production, which are also of exceptional quality.

Clever set design by Kate Prescott sees two large brown crates which are skillfully manipulated by actors in full costume, to rapidly change scene and location, with the crates manipulated to form counters, beds, tables, and though simple, it is most effective and functional. Moreover, this set also features a large fixed black silhouette upstage covering the width of the stage, and reminiscent of the rooftops of London, looking much like that seen in the stage production of Mary Poppins. This is then complemented by innovative lighting design by Richard Parkhill, which sees various colour washes on the cyc wall used to excellent effect, to convey changes in time of day and moods. Similarly, this innovative lighting design also sees the entrance of Marley's ghost in particular, as something quite terrifying, with the use of a bright flashes of white light, which are an assault on the eyes.

Costume design is equally excellent, with designs which are relevant to the time period conveyed, and are beautiful, elaborate, intricate and have close attention to detail. Of particular interest is the bright and colorful unique Christmas tree costume of the Ghost of Christmas Present, which is much like that of a literal present, being visually arresting and appealing, and ensuring that the joys of a Christmas present are conveyed effectively.

Ultimately, Christmas is, among many things, a time for spreading festive cheer and a time for loving. Therefore, this production of A Christmas Carol is a most appropriate show to round out an excellent year of quality theatre from The Rep, as it is a production which is so easy to love and one can't help but be filled with festive cheer for the duration of the show and leave the theatre filled with Christmas joy. It is the perfect way to start the Christmas season, so ensure you make every effort to catch it, Cratchit.
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Why? to enjoy a delightful Christmas classic
When: 14 - 16 Nov 8pm, 20 - 23 Nov 8pm, with 2pm matinee Nov 23
Phone: 08 8212 5777
Where: The Arts Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide
Cost: Adults $22, Concession $17
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