Theatre review: A Christmas Carol – getting back to basics

Does the world really need another adaptation of A Christmas Carol?  With so many versions vying for our attention during the holiday season one would question that need, but in the hands of Pacific Theatre’s Artistic Director this newest version gets back to some storytelling basics that allows Dickens’ text to shine.

This adaptation is successsful because of Ron Reed’s decision to stick closely to Dickens’ original text and in his ability to tell the story.  The book is a classic for good reason and its enduring nature comes not just from some entertaining adaptations – I admit to being as much a fan of Scrooged as I am the iconic Alastair Sims’ version – but from the lush and flavourful words on the page.

Reed is a wonderful storyteller and as he moves quickly from a simple reading into full-blown reenactments of scenes, the richness of Dickens’ tale shines.  Reed has an obvious love for his source material and it pours forth onto the stage with an openness and spirit that easily draws you in.  In the final moments of the play Reed is so joyful in his character’s enlightenment I even found my own indifference to the holiday season melt away.

Ron Reed in the Pacific Theatre production of A Christmas Carol.  Photo by Andrew Smith.
Ron Reed stars in his adaption of A Christmas Carol on stage at the Pacific Theatre.  Photo by Andrew Smith.

Not quite as successful as Reed is the role of the Fiddler, played by Kathleen Nisbet.  As the show starts it appears she is the recipient of Reed’s story, sitting contentedly at his feet to listen, but as the show progresses her purpose becomes vague and she is relegated to underscoring some of the action with her fiddle and merely assisting Reed in some of the scenes.  While Nisbet does a fine job with what she has been given, I wanted so much more from her character.

Despite the strength in its words, Reed’s adaptation also includes some wonderful visuals to accompany his refined performance.  Using set designer Bryan Pollock’s eccentric shop of curiosities, Reed is able to call upon its contents to tell the story; his flight with the Ghost of Christmas Past uses small toys illuminated by pinpoint lights from lighting designer Lauchlin Johnston, the Ghost of Christmas Future becomes a grotesque stuffed monkey and even the tiny coal fires that attempt to keep Scrooge and Bob Cratchit warm, comes from a pop-up book.

It is reported that in his later years Dickens read from A Christmas Carol in public readings.  Some 150 years later, Ron Reed continues this tradition and proves what Dickens knew all along: its strength comes from its great story.

3 1/2 of 5 stars A Christmas Carol

Adapted by Ron Reed from the novel by Charles Dickens. Directed by Sarah Rodgers.  On stage at the Pacific Theatre through December 31, 2011.  Visit http://www.pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.

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