Reviewed by Annika Loci
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne
Until 29th December, 2022
Images by Jeff Busby
The arrival of the Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol at the Comedy Theatre has certainly announced the festive season is upon us! Now an annual traditional in London, Melbourne audiences are being treated to the Old Vic Production of this Christmas classic story; a truly magical, immersive and wondrous theatrical experience. This multiple Tony award winning production (Original Score; Scenic Design; Costume Design; Lighting Design; Sound Design) had audiences excited long before the story even begins.
Most of us know this classic tale, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future taking him on what initially seems like a pointless exploration of self-reflection turns out to be for emotional redemption.
This stunning version by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter & Cursed Child) and directed by Matthew Warchus (Matilda the Musical) provides us with more background and depth to Scrooge psychologically, a different insight to his moral decision-making and his relationships.
David Wenham is simply magnificent as the cruel, emotionally traumatized Scrooge searching for redemption. Truly captivating from his first grumbled “Bah-Humbug”, Wenham’s performance is commanding, with such beautiful and expert manipulation of dialogue and mannerisms as the character develops. Combined with perfectly delivered moments of humour, he will tug at your heart strings until the final bell tolls. To see such a master of Australian acting on stage will not be an forgotten experience.
This extraordinary performance by Wenham would not be possible without an incredibly multi- talented ensemble, who bring their own unique skills to this production. Whether that be in choral singing or playing a musical instrument, it works to supplement their sensational acting. The all-female ghost line-up is a lovely change to the original story. With Debra Lawrance (Past), Samantha Morely (Present) and Emily Nkomo (Future) delivering differing emotional performances providing a clear definition of where in the narrative Scrooge psychologically stands.
Anthony Harkin gives a stellar performance in the dual roles of Scrooge’s abusive father & business partner Marley; Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward provides energy as a young and innocent Ebenezer; Sarah Morrison gives a genuine performance as love interest Belle; Bernard Curry finds a great emotional balance within the quiet yet burdened Bob, and Nkomo, who also is in role of Little Fan, delivers fabulous variety in her roles.
“heart-warming and delightful, full of sensational and immersive production elements…”
A Christmas Carol is not a musical, but music plays a very large role in the storytelling, with composer and arranger Christopher Nightingale including twelve of the world’s most well-known carols from ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ to ‘Silent Night’. Nightingale has arranged these carols with a folk-style quality in many different forms. Whether it be an on stage ensemble directly welcoming in audiences, through to the entertaining use of hand-bells by the full cast, or as a live unobtrusive soundtrack under dialogue. The music highlights the narrative’s lighter and darker moments with the Acapella vocal sections creating breathtaking coral and harmonic moments.
This immersive production, begins long before the house lights are lowered. The fourth wall is broken immediately as audiences are offered treats of mince pies and mandarins as they enjoy the music, and marvel at Rob Howell’s simple but spectacular set with (what feels like) hundreds of lanterns suspended and merging past the stage into the theatre itself. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting design takes full advantage of these lanterns providing different levels of atmosphere. A nod to the social and economic times, Vanstone utilises pivoting doorways which appear and disappear, whilst creating a feeling of Scrooge’s isolation from the world, whilst creating a sense of magic and infinite space as the ghosts arrive.
Although Thorne’s version might feel a bit darker in sections, there is an abundance of theatrical and Christmas magic, merriment, and delight for audiences to enjoy as Scrooge has a change of heart.
A Christmas Carol by Old Vic Production is a beautifully presented version of Dickens’ classic. It’s heart-warming and delightful, full of sensational and immersive production elements, which, when combined together, create something truly unique and joyful. An uplifting theatrical experience not to be missed this festive season!
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A Version by Jack Thorne
Conceived and Directed by Matthew Warchus
Set & Costume Rob Howell
Composer & Arranger Christopher Nightingale
Lighting Hugh Vanstone
Sound Simon Baker
Movement Lizzi Gee
Associate Director Jamie Manton
Musical Supervisor Laurie Perkins
Australian Musical Director Andrew Ross
Resident Director David Spencer
Associate Lighting Designer Hugh Hamilton
Associate Sound Designer David Greasley
Wardrobe Supervisor Sharon Williams
Hair, Wigs & Make Up Campbell Young Associates
Casting Director Natalie Gilhome
Jan Di Pietro
Evie Rose Hennessy
Natasha Fearnside – Reed
Lauren Jennings – Cello
Lisa Reynolds – Violin