Arts & Culture

Fourty-four characters offer a Dickens of a tale

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:23 PST, Tue December 3, 2019

Last Updated: 4:08 PST, Thu December 19, 2019

Have you ever listened around the campfire to a gifted storyteller? Or, perhaps relaxed in the living room after a good supper as a favourite story comes alive once again?

Imagine then having fine background music, sound effects, fog, a set, and candlelight at just the right moments. 

That’s what you have with Pacific Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol. 

Richmond resident, Ron Reed, acts out the yarn with such skill that you always know who is speaking be it the author’s narration, Scrooge’s grumbling, or a spirit’s guidance, in this one-person show.  

I glanced around the audience. Was it just me who was spellbound? I saw nary a fidget. All eyes and ears were on Reed as Scrooge’s tale came to life. We were there. In the streets of Victorian London as he gave us each character. 

Reed says, “It’s easy to think of A Christmas Carol as sweet, with kooky characters, and that’s all true. The story’s full of so much life.” 

The company’s founder and artistic director, Reed, went back to Dickens’ original 1843 text for this adaptation. With lines, like the one describing both the wintery weather and Scrooge’s hard-hearted visage, “The cold within him froze his own features,” the poetry of the original translates vividly to present day. 

This story is part of the English-speaking world’s culture. References, often made in short form, pervade our language. 

Many of us know the Alastair Sim version. Reed has wisely kept some of the most famous lines from that movie. 

“Are there no prisons? And the union workhouse, are they still in operation?” and “If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population," are iconic. 

Calling it a profound story, Reed says, “It matters so much. It is the story of a man who has lived his life completely for himself. He’s made all his choices for his own gain and slowly finds himself isolated.” 

The story-line echoes today’s dilemmas in spades: the plight of the poor who make the wealthy rich.

Reed says, “(Scrooge is) confronted with looking at his own behaviour, looking at his own life, seeing the consequences and seeing what it’s done to other people.”

At times, Reed delivered his lines a littler faster than I would have liked and occasionally, as when a candle is blown out and the room fades to black, I would have liked a moment’s more time to relish the storyteller’s spell as the smoke from the candle wafted up and away. 

Through it all, Reed is more than just a story teller, he is an actor, giving each role its due with clarity that ties all the characters together while, like a fresh stew, each has its own flavor and texture. 

When Reed spoke of the Cratchits gathered around the fire, I could almost smell the chestnuts that “crackled on the fire.”

Drew Facey’s design set the scene simply with flexible, innovative props and curtains. The curtains, through which the audience could see, had black and white Victorian images of waifs, streets and wretched upon them. They seemed something out of an etching and were moved about, on rather noisy curtain rods, to change the setting or mood. 

Michael K. Hewitt’s lighting design was perfect. The play begins when the narrator, Reed, lights a candle on stage. Speaking at first by candlelight, our attention is gathered in and not released until the flame is extinguished to begin the break. We are quickly, back in Victorian London, the moment we return. 

With one exception in the first half of the play, where the background music seemed a little too loud, the sound design enriched the tale, like the butter and cinnamon in a pie rich with the taste of apples.

Ben Elliott’s sound design wrapped us in this tale. His original compositions wafted throughout the play with the final music being my favourite. (I’d buy that record.)

The blocking and choreography by Laura Ross was good, using the stage and allowing for everyone in this alley theatre to both see and hear Reed’s acting out of this classic tale. 

Julie White’s costume design set the stage well working for the host of characters without Reed having to change his outfit. 

While what we see adds to the effect, Reed’s story telling paints such vivid pictures that the visually impaired can look forward to an evening’s entertainment without the need for descriptive video. 

Just in case you aren’t familiar with Scrooge’s story, here’s a spoiler alert.

As in the book, Pacific Theatre’s A Christmas Carol ends with a gloriously full dénouement.  We get to relish Scrooge’s delight in his newfound life he’s made.

Reed says, “He grows a heart. He learns to care about the people that he’s frozen out, that he’s damaged and he gets another chance.” 

It is a redemption story, richly told. It is a tale, regardless of faith or country of origin, for all to enjoy. 

Reed says, “I think it offers us that sense of having another chance, a fresh start.”  

Whether you are fresh to A Christmas Carol or you want to hear this beloved classic made fresh, this production fits the bill. It is a gem. 

Had our offspring seen it as a child, he would have been acting out scenes for us the rest of the year. 

One audience member said it reminded him of CBC’s long-gone Fireside Al, whose warm recounting of tales lives on at the CBC online radio archives. 

Suitable for all ages, Pacific Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol runs through Dec 21 with some matinees. Wheel chair accessible seating available.

For tickets online online at pacifictheatre.org or call 604-731-5518 or go to the box office 1440 W 12th Ave, Vancouver (at Hemlock).

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