A Christmas Carol reinvented—with delightful weirdness

Theatre Obscura is presenting A Christmas Carol at the Jericho Arts Centre.

Linden Banks stepped into Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol at the last minute—with ghoulish aplomb.

The pleasure is in the storytelling—and in everything from the words to the light that’s used to tell the tale.

In Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, playwright Tom Mula examines the motivation—and metaphysical placement—of Jacob Marley, who is a bit player, the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, in Charles Dickens’s original telling of A Christmas Carol.

In the Dickens version, Marley instigates Scrooge’s redemption but, once that transformation is complete, he is left to drag his chains through lonely eternity. Mula gives Marley a break: if Marley can redeem Scrooge, the dog-sized chair-shaped Record Keeper tells him, he will be free “to pursue his greater joy.”

Step by step, Marley improvises his strategies. When appearing in Scrooge’s doorknocker and peeling his skin back from his face “like a banana” doesn’t get the miser’s attention, Marley hits on the idea of appearing in other guises—as the Spirit of Christmas Past, for instance, to take Scrooge back to a more openhearted time. In a nice touch, Marley’s magic is theatre magic: he senses the presence of the Spirit of Christmas Present, for example, and then allows that spirit to make him say and do astonishing things. In other words, Marley discovers the transformative power of acting.

Throughout all of this, Marley is assisted by the Bogle, “a little man all made of light about the size of a raisin”, who lives in Marley’s ear. The sheer weirdness of Mula’s vision is a pleasure, as is the richness of his language: a terrifying spirit who floats past in an armchair lets loose “a dry, unsmiling chuckle, like a spider might have had.” And there’s plenty of wit, too. The Bogle shows Marley that at least one or two helping spirits accompany every mortal on Earth and adds that Marley was a special project: “At one time, there were 138 angels dancing on the head of your particular pin.”

In the script, which combines scenes and narration, no physical staging is specified and, in this Theatre Obscura production, director Guy Fauchon, lighting designer Chengayn Boon, and the actors have a field day with the implicit permission. Fauchon’s choice to use a huge, bare, wide-open playing area with a white curtain at the back highlights the script’s existential concerns—and the resourcefulness of human creativity.

Fauchon and his cast use the whole area well, often playfully: when David C. Jones, who plays the Record Keeper among other roles, mimes pulling out a drawer that contains the records of the dead, he hauls it out for yards and yards before fiddling through it with his fingers and bumping it back into place with his hip.

And Boon’s lighting is a star of the show. Using footlights and backlighting, he casts looming, sometimes multiple shadows on the curtain. When the most despairing of the dead disappear into existential gloom, spotlights evaporate. And, when one of the main characters meets a disastrous fate, the back curtain flashes orange, silhouetting him—and he’s gone.

The four-person cast is also strong. Amazingly, Linden Banks, who took over the role of Marley at the last minute—the original actor suffered a family death—delivers a polished and multi-faceted performance. I particularly enjoyed the brightness of his young, Cockney Christmas Past and the expansive joy of his Christmas Present. Beth Gunderson’s Bogel has just the right level of wickedness: he takes impish pleasure in administering the torment that’s part of his job. The frankness and simplicity of Adam Francis Proulx’s Scrooge lends his characterization wit and weight. Jones brings a welcome sense of fun and eccentricity to his characters—and there’s a caveat: almost all of them appear to be gay. Obviously, I’m not knocking gayness, but Jones needs to be more aware of his movement if he wants to create more differentiation.

I saw almost all of this show twice. I thought it started at 8:00, but the real start time is 7:30, so I missed a few minutes the first time around and returned another night to see the evening through. It’s a testament to this production that I enjoyed it even more the second time.

JACOB MARLEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL By Tom Mula. Directed by Guy Fauchon. A Theatre Obscura production at the Jericho Arts Centre on Tuesday, December 13. Continues until December 18.

Get tickets at http://brownpapertickets.com

 

 

 

 

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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