A Christmas Carol: a top drawer humbug

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REVIEW
A Christmas Carol
Runs until Dec. 23
Citadel Theatre
9828 – 101 A Ave.
Tickets: $30 and up plus GST. Call 780-425-1820 or at http://www.citadeltheatre.com

Tom Woods’ adaptation of  Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has played at Citadel Theatre for 18 years.  It has been endlessly tweaked, but director Wayne Paquette’s version starring Glenn Nelson as Ebenezer Scrooge stands on my  top pick of favourites.

Audiences have always delighted in the spectral quality of the two-act show, the idea that either ghostly spirits from the netherworld or hallucinations work in mysterious ways to save a miserly soul. Through the fable’s hallucinatory apparitions, an unexpected psychological depth arises and aids in understanding the nasty miser’s journey.

Scrooge’s Christmas Eve night is without a doubt a nightmare, a journey into a terrifying realm where he must face the actions and the possible consequences of past choices.

Right from the first scene, Scrooge’s life turns into a bad dream. It is a recap of his business partner, Jacob Marley’s death seven years earlier. It is night. Chill winds blow and fog slips around Marley’s casket as a minister says the last words. Fog slides across rocks clinging to ground like a slithering snake. Suddenly a hissed forewarning “save yourself” screams at Scrooge, a spooky voice only he can hear.

Fast forward and Scrooge has completely withdrawn from society existing only to increase his earnings. But the penny-pincher is also a man warped by circumstance.

As a child he is shunned by a neglectful father and placed in a boarding school year round after his mother dies during childbirth. In one scene, all the boys at boarding school go home for Christmas. He is mercilessly teased and left behind to deal with aching loneliness and a sense of abandonment.

When Ebenezer’s beloved sister, Fanny, dies giving birth to his nephew, Fred, he is unable to deal with the pain and shuts everyone out including Belle, his fiancée. To make matters worse, he is apprenticed to Jacob Marley, a ruthless businessman who encourages Scrooge’s joyless addiction to money.

The shaggy-haired skinflint has been damaged by life and at times his conversion to glad-handing philanthropy is difficult to swallow. However, Nelson is a consummate professional and colours his character by stripping the role of sentimentality.

He strides on stage with a sour expression punctuating each remark with killing stares and obnoxious remarks. When Bob Cratchit requests Christmas Day off, the notorious tightwad sarcastically belittles him. When his nephew invites him to Christmas dinner, Scrooge mocks Fred’s happiness with his young wife.

Although Scrooge wears a fine gentleman’s top-hat, he is contemptuous of charity. As two ladies request a donation, he pulls out a bag of coins and jingles it before giving them the brush-off. This Scrooge is not only stingy. He is vile.

Nelson is incredibly animated and energetic using the right amount of acidity in his voice, yet gradually displaying bits of genuine emotion and regret as the spirits journey through his life. Nelson’s Scrooge comes to slowly understand his lost potential and his turnaround comes from the heart.

The cast is a terrific ensemble with with many actors playing dual and triple roles. No matter how often I see, Christmas Carol, former St. Albert resident John Kirkpatrick’s money-mad Marley sends chills down my spine. Wrapped in chains and carrying the weight of his greed, Kirkpatrick’s Marley not only warns Scrooge, he also begs and pleads with his former partner to heed his warnings.

Jamie Williams, in his debut role as Bob Cratchit, is a sweet soul, a gentle man who will take unlimited abuse to support his family. He is the put-upon working man we all sympathize with and a perfect foil to Scrooge. Beth Graham, as the plain-spoken, solid Mrs. Cratchit, is a charmer.

Several others who deserve a nod are Oscar Derxx in the dual role of Young Scrooge and the terrifying Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, as well as Julia Guy as the adored Belle, and Shannon Taylor as the gracious Alice, Fred’s wife. Of course,  the cuteness prize goes to Lilla Solymos as Tiny Tim.

Sadly little has changed since the industrial revolution and Dickens’ message is still rings true today: ignorance and poverty brought about by the greed of a few needs to be addressed.

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About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.