Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A Christmas Carol, Belvoir

A reasonably straightforward version of the Dickens classic, what brings this out of the ordinary is some exceptional stagecraft and some entertaining performances.

First, though, I do have to poke a bit at the scriptwriting. Benedict Hardie and Anne-Louise Sarks' script is never actively bad, though there are points where the difference between dialogue in a novel and dialogue on stage is pretty apparent (dialogue in a novel doesn't have to sound natural coming out of an actor's mouth, dialogue on stage does). I do kinda think Belvoir has had a problem with some of their adaptations over the last year - Simon Stone made script adaptation look a lot easier than it actually is, and attempts to follow him have often led otherwise talented theatre-makers astray. Just because you have a classic story and a verbatim translation, you don't always have a completely persuasive script - it does need a little more care than that.

Fortunately, while Sarks is mediocre as a playwright she's exceptional as a director. There's some virtuoso staging here - on a bare-bones, heavily raked stage with trapdoors, she directs a show with regular magic, snow and a kaleidoscope of locations and times, as Scrooge's journey takes him through his past present and future, and keeps it moving effectively and entertainingly. She's assisted by Michael Hankin's deceptively simple design, Benjamin Cisterne's sharp-as-a-tack lighting, and Stefan Gregory's creepily effective sound design.

Scrooge may be one of the roles Robert Menzies was born to play - his natural hangdog expression and thin body are a perfect representation of Scrooge's miserly nature and his drawn-in-grumpiness. But he's also exceptional at tracking the changes in this man - as humanity creeps back into him. The rest of the cast bounce through a range of supporting roles - Kate Box's tinsel-tastic Ghost of Christmas Present, Steve Rodgers' ambiable Bob Cratchit and his goofy Christmas-tree-charity-bucket-holder, Ivan Donato's stern Ghost of Christmas Past, Ursula Yovich's mumsy Mrs Cratchit and Miranda Tapsell's bright-and-bubbly Tiny Tim stick out for special mention.

Stage management by Edwina Guinness and Sara Stait deserve special mention both for highly-active work backstage to make all the magic work, plus for what is undoubtedly a highly laborious pre-show setup and post-show cleanup to properly distribute the massive amount of snow that ends up in various spots around the auditorium (and contributes to a fun pre-show ritual as various kids and adults in the audience throw bits of paper all over each other).

A fun and fast moving adaptation that, perhaps, doesn't cut as deeply as it could, but never the less proves effective in the watching.

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