With live theatre having been placed on the back burner for the majority of 2020, QPAC and Shake and Stir Theatre Co. granted everyone a festive wish with its third annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Befitting of its production, QPAC decked its halls and atrium in Christmas lights. The majesty of the celebration was not lost on patrons, many of whom dressed in fine clothes for the occasion. After nine months of lockdowns, restricted performances, and empty stages, the lights sparkled with an air of hopeful positivity. Little lighthouse beacons welcoming audiences back to the safe harbour of the Lyric Theatre.
It was an inspired decision to make A Christmas Carol Lyric Theatre’s first major production since COVID began. Dickens’ tale of the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge’s Christmas redemption has become a mainstay for holiday entertainment. Characters such as Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and Scrooge himself have become iconic entities in their own right. Scrooge’s infamous catchphrase “Bah Humbug!” can be uttered without the need for context.
However, it is not A Christmas Carol’s familiarity that makes it a strong choice of production, rather, its timelessness.
Throughout A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge transforms from a selfish, greedy recluse to a sociable and charitable gentleman. Eugene Gilfedder taps into Scrooge’s complex manner with ease, effectively presenting the menacing character with severity and charm in equal measure. Mirroring the ‘opening up’ of his character, Gilfedder’s physicality on stage grows faster and more joyful throughout the performance. This perfectly compliments A Christmas Carol’s themes of hope and goodwill.
Similarly, the ensemble cast play off one another dynamically. Much like the 19th century London residents they portray, they form a community onstage. Much of Dickens’ narration is divided between the members, amounting to a sort of lyrical dance (accompanied by their tremendously talented violinist and composer, Salliana Campbell). Their dual roles of performers and stagehands elicit the importance of group support.
Under the masterful direction of Michael Futcher, the cast and crew transport audiences to a Dickensian London unique from previous productions. Juxtaposing traditional set pieces with modern audio-visual cues ensure this retelling of A Christmas Carol is both faithful and contemporary.
Designer Josh McIntosh ingeniously creates depth perception through the curation of staggered buildings and windows, making QPAC’s stage feel like a world in and of itself. This is additionally achieved through the expert interplay of lighting (Jason Glenwright), video (Craig Wilkinson), and sound (Guy Webster).
Triumphant highlights are many throughout A Christmas Carol. Campbell’s orchestration adds a delightful levity to the small, quiet tale. Bryan Probets’ gleeful portrayal of Jacob Marley (both in-person and on-screen), as well as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come establish him as a commanding force of versatility. Using a puppet as Tiny Tim, while at first a little disconcerting, proves to be emotional resonant as each performer takes turns in manoeuvring him.
Arguably the biggest success, however, is in Nelle Lee’s brilliant adaptation of Dickens’ festive novella. She presents the story with contemporary panache while also staying faithful to the source material. It is her guidance, similar to the spirits Scrooge encounters, that has allowed Shake and Stir Theatre Co. to resurrect life back onto the stage.
At the performance’s conclusion, the cast takes their bows in a flurry of snow. Silhouetted by flickering lamplights and the London skyline, they rise to thunderous applause from an appeased audience. It is a moment of true elation for all within the Lyric Theatre – a moment that has been building for most of the year.
In the spirit of Dickens’ classic, volunteers collect for the Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund throughout QPAC’s atrium. The giving mood flows from the stage to the audience as buckets are inundated with donations. Not a humbug in sight.
This act of generosity further reiterates the importance of QPAC’s decision to reopen with A Christmas Carol. After months of COVID restrictions, audiences – like Scrooge – have a chance to spread the festive cheer through the community. The production’s message of hope even in the direst of circumstances resonates strongly in 2020. Much like Christmas itself, live theatre brings people together to celebrate. In choosing to perform the festive play, Shake and Stir are bringing Brisbane’s theatre-loving public together at a time (and year) in which they really need it.
As the joy of Christmas abounds, so too does the excitement of live theatre. Months of tireless work has amounted to an absolutely stellar production of A Christmas Carol. With a jubilant return to the Lyric Theatre’s stage, Tiny Tim’s famous words truly encapsulate this moment perfectly.
“God Bless Us, Everyone.”
A Christmas Carol is currently playing at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre, Brisbane.
For tickets and more information, CLICK HERE