Not my Christmas Carol

The Gateway Theatre is presenting Michael Shamata's adaptation of A Christmas Carol at the Gateway Theatre.

Russel Roberts gets wheeled around as Scrooge and Emily Jane King floats as Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol at the Gateway. (Photo by David Cooper)

Nobody likes to rain on a parade—especially not a Christmas parade—but the Gateway Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol is so vacant that I have no choice.

As Trump’s Republicans ruthlessly exploit the poor to increase their personal wealth, the relevance of Dickens’s novella is obvious. And Russell Roberts is acting his pants off as Scrooge in Michael Shamata’s stage adaptation of the work. Roberts puts a particularly fresh spin on Scrooge’s joyful conversion, inventing a lovely bit of business in which he “accidentally” blows out a candle three times, for instance.

But Roberts is surrounded by a whole lot of empty space. In Drew Facey’s set, much of that space is literal. Facey gives us a kind of architectural line drawing in which the only substantial three-dimensional element is a staircase. There is virtually no sense of volume, containment, or place. In this thin atmosphere, almost everything that the actors do evaporates.

Director Rachel Peake throws other elements at the production, including Joelysa Pankanea’s score and Itai Erdal’s lighting. Pankanea’s score is sometimes spookily successful as is Erdal’s lighting—although the latter is generally too bright for a ghost story. Peake also adds the occasional grand gesture: the Ghost of Christmas Present (Allan Morgan) arrives on a tall, wheeled staircase, for instance, and he gets rolled about the stage with Scrooge as a passenger. That gesture and almost everything else feel hollow, though, because nothing is sustained: the production elements come together too rarely, and there’s no overall sense of vision.

There are also big holes in the acting. Morgan, who takes on a number of roles, is a pro and so is Linda Quibell, who appears as Mrs. Fezziwig and some other characters. Their performances are fine. And theatre student Emily Jane King brings a pleasingly eccentric floatiness to the Spirit of Christmas Past. Other players are simply lost. My point here is not that the other amateurs lack talent; I’m simply saying that this showcase is too challenging for most of them. And, if you’re going to cast newbies, you have to give them more guidance.

It might be time for the Gateway to reconsider its tradition of semi-professional holiday shows. The top ticket price for A Christmas Carol is over fifty bucks: for that kind of dough, you have a right to expect a more polished entertainment.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL By Charles Dickens. Adapted by Michael Shamata.

Directed by Rachel Peake. An Gateway Theatre production at the Gateway Theatre on Saturday, December 16. Continues until January 24. Tickets.

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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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