The Fall and Rise of Mr Scrooge (New Farm Nash Theatre)
The Brunswick Room, Merthyr Road Uniting Church
November 19 – December 10
Deck the halls with boughs of holly; it may only be November but the Christmas season has well and truly arrived! And shows don’t come much more Christmassy than Sue Sewell’s adaption of “A Christmas Carol”, “The Fall and Rise of Mr Scrooge”, the final production in Nash Theatre’ 2016 season.
The story follows the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Barry Haworth) who, through greed, has lost all that is good but undergoes redemption on Christmas Eve after being visited by the ghosts (spirits in this instance) of Christmas past, present and future It’s a cheery but dreary spectacle that has been retold in such a variety of different ways that audience members are likely to be in attendance with previous experience against which to make comparison, making it a challenge to create a captivating encounter. Unfortunately, it this regard Nash Theatre’s take falls a little flat. With the exception of Haworth and Stuart Fisher as the Spirit of Christmas Present, cast members don’t appear to take ownership of their characters, resulting in on-stage interactions that lack conviction. The consequential loss of connection with the characters means that the show sometimes drags along, especially in Act One.
Under the co-direction of Brenda White and Jonathan Collins, this version of the classic story amplifies the materialist side of its message: Scrooge learns in the nick of time to stop hoarding and start spending, strangely sending a passing boy, without funds, to buy a turkey from a shop open on Christmas Day. Plot concerns aside, Haworth gives a pleasing performance as the grumpy Ebenezer, a scrooge in need of redemption from his ‘Christmas is humbug’ attitude. And his vocal strength serves to bolster the show in juxtaposition to others of more timid voice. Indeed, although large ensemble numbers are melodic, smaller numbers are often spoiled by projection difficulties, leaving audience members straining to hear, especially when singers turn from facing the front before a line is complete.
The change of the visiting ghosts to Spirits of Past, Present and Yet to Come reflects this somewhat light-hearted take on the tale. The appearance of Marley (Steve Tonks), Scrooge’s deceased business partner is far from its traditionally terrifying haunt. The clunky chains that are dragged onstage as part of his ensemble don’t just distract from his dialogue but also disrupt the preceding monologue from their backstage sounds.
Although scene transitions and the movement of props could be more efficient, the use of a full-stage scrim behind which dream scenes are staged works well visually. And Fisher brings some wonderful whimsy to the role of Spirit of Christmas Present. In a different production it could be more celebrated, but in this small venue, it is overwhelming when weighed against the timidity of those around him.
The script is complimented by a lively score, with excellent solo piano accompaniment by Stuart Crisp, yet the audience is left with few memorable numbers from the mix of Christmas carols with some simple original songs, beyond ‘Thank You Very Much’. Still, its lovely story shines through, particularly in Act Two, full of the essential themes of Christmas, even if this is not quite the cast’s season.