Review: A Christmas Carol at Pacific Theatre
Pacific Theatre’s A Christmas Carol is a thoroughly heartwarming, touching, and endlessly inventive staging of Charles Dickens’ allegorical classic. Putting storytelling first, this one-man production takes the much-interpreted tale and returns it to a very human and special place.
In a clever turn, the setting for the work is borrowed from another of Dickens’ novels – The Old Curiousity Shop. The stage is a cosy, cluttered Victorian store, with overflowing shelves, stacked detritus, and dolls hanging from the ceilings. The action begins as an old man (this one-man show is played by the talented Ron Reed, adapter of the work and Artistic Director of Pacific Theatre) and young woman (played by fiddler Kathleen Nisbet) close the shop for the evening. Once everything is set away, the woman plays the first few bars of The Holly and the Ivy on fiddle, while the old man cracks a book and utters that most wonderful of opening sentences, “Marley was dead to begin with…”
The “storytelling” set-up is really only a way to launch ourselves into the tale, as the book is quickly out of actor Ron Reed’s hands and he begins to embody Dickens’ tremendous cast of characters.
Reed’s performance is mercurial, quick witted, and deeply empathetic. When he grunts Scrooge’s dismissive “Bah! Humbug!” he radiates frostiness and hostility; when morning comes and he is a redeemed man, his giddiness and joy are positively infectious. Where Reed truly identifies himself as a master of his craft, however, is in his rapid transitions between various characters and exposition.
Without resorting to over-the-top physical affectations, accents, or similar impersonations, Reed is able to convey a broad cast of characters through command of nuance and clarity of intention. His skill is such that he can carry on conversations between three or more characters, with the audience following who is speaking through subtle shifts in posture and intonation alone.
The ‘Curiousity Shop’ framing is an excellent choice on Director Sarah Rodger’s part, as it is tremendously helpful in allowing Reed to seamlessly flit between exposition and character dialogue. The shop’s wares are used in increasingly creative manners to convey the story’s many locations, characters, and events. The requisite chains, ledgers, and bells are instantly pulled off and out of the walls, a paper mache mask becomes the ghost of Marley, and top hats and bonnets form bustling crowds. Scrooge and a ghost even soar over London as tiny figurines are borne in the performers’ hands. The use of props does not only add a layer of texture to the story’s telling, but becomes an entertainment unto itself, as the audience anticipates the next wonder to emerge from the shop’s stock.
The production is described as a ‘one-man show’ and while Reed does indeed do (almost) all of the speaking, the description does some disservice to fiddler Kathleen Nisbet. The bright-eyed performer spends the entirety of the piece on stage and plays an active role in its telling. She is a remarkably talented musician, possesses a beautiful singing voice, and is a perfect foil for Reed, as she facilitates and plays along with his whirlwind story telling.
Of all the festive stories we return to at this time of year, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol must surely be the best. It is a secular tale assuring us that even the coldest, cruelest person is capable of change, and celebrates the remarkable good we can achieve in our lifetimes. Pacific Theatre does great honour to Dickens’ beautiful, humanist message through this imaginative and wondrously entertaining production.
A Christmas Carol runs at Pacific Theatre until December 31. Click here to purchase tickets.