by Charles Dickens, adapted by Lezlie Wade & Kevin J. Etherington
Carousel Theatre, Granville Island
December 3 - 24

For many years Carousel Theatre produced Mavor Moore's musical version of A Christmas Carol, a sumptuous seasonal treat with a big cast, songs, dances and fairly elaborate production values. This year it seems Mr. Scrooge himself vetted the budget. The company has mounted a non-musical adaptation by Ontario writers Lezlie Wade and Kevin J. Etherington with a cast of five, four who play multiple roles, and puppets for the ghosts. There's a lot to like about Chris McGregor's scaled down production, not least Terence Kelly's sweetly underplayed Scrooge. But the missing pieces left me yearning for some of the ghosts of Christmas Carols past.

Though still basically a grouch, Kelly's Scrooge is the most sympathetic I've seen, explaining himself to the audience with gentle irony, practically throwing away his "humbugs!" It's an interesting strategy. He has the kids rooting for him right from the start, and he still manages to make his conversion to goodheartedness at the end delightful and moving. As a character he really hasn't much competition. The Cratchits, whose dire poverty and ill health usually provide the foils to Scrooge's monstrous miserliness, seem to be flourishing here, a rosy-cheeked, well-dressed couple with good crockery. All their kids but Tiny Tim are invisible, and Tim (cute Lucas Testini) gets so little stage time that it's hard to feel much antipathy for Scrooge on his behalf. The ghosts, while odd looking, barely rattle a chain. Frank Rader's puppets range from about four to nine feet tall and, in the Japanese Bunraku style, are voiced and manipulated by an actor visible behind each one, their mask-like faces vaguely reminiscent of E.T. or I, Robot.

In front of Lance Cardinal's cheerfully wonky set, not much more than a series of painted flats paying homage to Tim Burton, the other three adult actors do a nice job whipping from one character to another, though Connie and Grayson Hosie's nondescript costumes sometimes make it hard to differentiate them. Chad Herschler and Mike Wasko share all the men's roles and manipulate the ghost puppets. Lively, attractive Courtenay Dobbie deserves a couple of salaries for playing all the women, often in back to back short scenes: she'll go off, then quickly come on again in another role. There's nothing farcical about it but I couldn't help thinking of the frantic backstage action in Noises Off. The kids at the matinee I attended were attentive, though they didn't laugh much, and seemed to have no trouble making sense of it all. A nice show for all ages, cut corners and all.

Jerry Wasserman

Performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Saturday matinees at 2 pm. Additional matinees Dec. 20-24 at 2 pm and additional evening performances Dec. 21-24 at 8 pm.

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:09 PM
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