December 16, 2018

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Familiarity breeds content in slightly offbeat, beyond well-roasted chestnut at RMTC

Dylan Hewlett photo</p><p>Robb Paterson as Ebenezer Scrooge</p>

Dylan Hewlett photo

Robb Paterson as Ebenezer Scrooge

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2017 (386 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Even if you've never read the book, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is such a familiar piece of fiction, via TV and movies, watching a stage version is rather like listening to a favourite song to which you know every word.

So, yes, it's a brilliant work, but experiencing it is akin to watching karaoke. An unfamiliar note or an interpretative liberty runs the risk of being downright jarring.

Nevertheless, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre stage production, an adaptation of Dickens' tale by Winnipeg playwright Bruce McManus, gamely reframes the story in a manner suggestive of a documentary, with talking-head subjects occasionally plucked from the background to take to centre stage, offering observations on the character of Ebenezer Scrooge (Robb Patterson).

The device of those sporadic testimonies is not especially inspired: McManus is telling us, not showing us, aspects of Scrooge's character, and while it is always a pleasure to hear actors such as Paul Essiembre (as a gravedigger) richly declaim, it's mostly an exercise in redundancy.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2017 (386 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Even if you've never read the book, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is such a familiar piece of fiction, via TV and movies, watching a stage version is rather like listening to a favourite song to which you know every word.

So, yes, it's a brilliant work, but experiencing it is akin to watching karaoke. An unfamiliar note or an interpretative liberty runs the risk of being downright jarring.

Dylan Hewlett photo</p><p>Arne MacPherson as the ghost of Jacob Marley</p>

Dylan Hewlett photo

Arne MacPherson as the ghost of Jacob Marley

Nevertheless, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre stage production, an adaptation of Dickens' tale by Winnipeg playwright Bruce McManus, gamely reframes the story in a manner suggestive of a documentary, with talking-head subjects occasionally plucked from the background to take to centre stage, offering observations on the character of Ebenezer Scrooge (Robb Patterson).

The device of those sporadic testimonies is not especially inspired: McManus is telling us, not showing us, aspects of Scrooge's character, and while it is always a pleasure to hear actors such as Paul Essiembre (as a gravedigger) richly declaim, it's mostly an exercise in redundancy.

Scrooge is, as we all know, a miser — a friendless, loveless, misanthropic moneybags, distinctively awful, even in the grim realm of 1840s London. We see him reject the entreaties of a couple of stout fellows collecting for charity, and reject the dinner invitation of his affable nephew Fred (Ryan James Miller), the only child of his tragically deceased sister.

But through the intervention of his deceased former business partner Jacob Marley (Arne MacPherson), Scrooge is offered startling perspectives of his existence courtesy of the ethereal Spirit of Christmas Past (Cherissa Richards), the sanguine Spirit of Christmas Present (John B. Lowe) and the silent, spectral Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come (Lindsay Johnson).

Director Steven Schipper doubles down on the familiarity factor with a cast culled from the finest of local actors, most playing multiple parts. Here's MacPherson, chilling as Marley's ghost, roaring and moaning over the shackles he must wear for eternity. Here's Carson Nattrass leading a trio of prisoners to execution — a strange and dark way to start a holiday show. Here's Andrea del Campo ably juggling three roles: the jolly Mrs. Fezziwig, Fred's gracious bride and the scavenging laundress.

Kevin Klassen plays Scrooge's put-upon clerk Bob Cratchit, a portrait of benign civility until his breakdown, a scene that has challenged tear ducts for nearly 170 years.

They're all a pleasure to be with for the play's two-hour running time, including an intermission.

Then there's Scrooge. It's always best to cast a lovable actor in the role — one reason Alastair Sim was such an excellent Scrooge on film and George C. Scott was not.

In these parts, they don't get more lovable than Patterson, who sneers and grovels most effectively, but also gives a good verbal bite when required. (He may be a jerk, but Scrooge is also a formidable wit.)

Set designer Gillian Gallow layers the tale with expressionist touches to embellish the horror elements but also to enhance the Christmas-y scenes.

But efforts to amp up the visual effects don't always succeed here. The use of pyrotechnics tends to fizzle. Projected images lack finesse. And the wirework, designed to give the illusion of flight, generally leaves the actors hanging.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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