Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 8 – Dec 24, 2014
Playwrights: Benedict Hardie, Anne-Louise Sarks (after Charles Dickens)
Director: Anne-Louise Sarks
Cast: Kate Box, Peter Carroll, Ivan Donato, Eden Falk, Robert Menzies, Steve Rodgers, Miranda Tapsell, Ursula Yovich
Images by Brett Boardman
Religion provides salvation, and the most enduring stories touch us in a similar way. Benedict Hardie and Anne-Louise Sarks’ adaptation of A Christmas Carol does not include Christianity as a theme in its structure and composition, but the play uses Dickens’ tale of redemption to affect a spiritually uplifting experience for its audience. Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey from darkness to joy is an inspiring one, and this new retelling of his tale keeps focus on providing a tender optimism against the familiar backdrop of the Christmas season. The production is child-friendly, with simple characterisations and narratives, all serving to drive the basic, but important, point of happiness.
Sarks’ direction is vibrant, emotional and poignant. There is a depth to her work that prevents the show from feeling like a children’s production, but she encourages us to observe with wide-eyed wonder, as pains are taken to create a dreamlike quality with the text’s supernatural elements and colourful personalities. There is a heavy dose of playful energy that contributes to the festive atmosphere in which we find ourselves immersed (complete with overwhelming volumes of confetti snow), and performances are sensitively tuned to bridge the gap between spectators young and old. Robert Menzies is perfect as Scrooge; the man looks almost to have been born to play the role. The clarity of his trajectories and the conviction he applies to his motivations give shape to the plot, allowing us to follow his compelling evolution with palpable empathy. The ensemble is a delight, with Steve Rodgers leaving an impression as the very warm Bob Cratchit, and Miranda Tapsell stealing our hearts as the lovable Tiny Tim. Ursula Yovich’s beautiful singing voice finds opportunity to shine in the carols that feature in several scene transitions, and her tears as Mrs Cratchit are equally exquisite.
Michael Hankin’s set design is cleverly conceived and efficiently executed, with trapdoors and an elevating platform maximising theatrical effect with little fuss. Lights by Benjamin Cisterne are lively and dynamic, adding visual panache to every sequence. Mood transformations are very successfully manufactured, not only by lighting design, but also with the use of Stefan Gregory’s sound and music, which are particularly powerful in moments of mystery and surprise. The show will be remembered for several outlandish costume pieces by Mel Page, but her more subtle work is also effective and should not be overlooked.
Scrooge’s story is well-known, but it bears repeating. Its central message needs reiteration, and Belvoir’s production this Christmas time is a fresh approach that manages to connect with audiences of all ages. We need to instill in Australia’s children, a culture of theatre attendance and art appreciation, and shows like A Christmas Carol are an excellent introduction. It is entertaining, creative and meaningful, and significantly, it leaves you satisfied yet wanting more.