Restirring a Christmas classic

A Christmas Carol (shake & stir theatre company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

December 2 – 24

At certain times of year or age, we have perhaps all felt a little like the Ebenezer Scrooge of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol”. As shake and stir theatre co’s adaptation reminds us, however, the cold-hearted elderly miser that we meet at the outset of the story is still capable of transformation. The initially spiteful and mean-spirited character’s redemption comes after he is visited, on the night before Christmas, by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley (now bound for eternity in the chains of his own greed after a life of hoarding his wealth and exploiting the poor), and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, which takes audiences to a lovely celebration of the festive generosity of spirit at the core of the Christmas season.

The award-winning production is as pantomime as Brisbane gets, particularly in the performances of Eugene Gilfedder as the misanthropist Scrooge, whose disdain for do-gooders and Bah! Humbug! desire to just be left alone, indicates that he is clearly far from merry… just ask his long-suffering clerk Bob Pratchett (Lucas Stibbard). More than just being cantankerous, however, Gilfedder’s Scrooge is quite funny, especially when relishing in his own amusements, which gives the character a depth beyond caricature. Bryan Probets, too, is wonderfully engaging as Marley’s ghost of Christmas past, present and future, particularly in drag as an Edwardian lady all dressed in white. And his physical commitment to floating in place and hovering across the stage is impressive in its add to the story’s authenticity.   

Michael Futcher’s nimble direction sees the perennial story pace along with performers jumping in and out of scenes and roles without detracting from audience investment in their worlds. Ross Balbuziente is magnetic as the younger, almost-once-married Scrooge of earlier times. He also banters buoyantly with Nick Skubij as children in the Christmas-present Cratchit family experience, both to juxtapose the family’s innocence and happiness against Scrooge’s misery, and also in foreshadow of the tragedy coming should Scrooge not change his miserly ways.

This is a grand production, perfect for the entire family, complete with live music, yule-tide carolling, innovative video design, lavish costumes, snow and a supersized turkey. Josh McIntosh’s design ensures that Dickensian London is brought vibrantly to life through a complicated but versatile mobile set design. Guy Webster’s sound design and Jason Glenwright’s lighting design, both cool us into the Victorianness of its drama and warm us towards its final affirming messages. And on-stage musicianship courtesy of internationally-acclaimed violinist Tabea Sitte soundtracks our transport across times.

While the show is now in its fourth year, this “A Christmas Carol” remains thoroughly innovative, particularly in its state-of-the-art video projections by Craig Wilkinson which awaken the story’s supernatural forces, particularly its ghostly visions and give us some Doctor Who type time vortex travel visions. While there are some moments of darkness, in keeping with its grim gothic ghost story origins, Nelle Lee’s adaption is ultimately a heart-warming tale that maintains the essence of the original, while igniting the appeal of the magical story to a modern-day audience. Indeed, it is difficult to leave the Playhouse Theatre upon the show’s end without being filled with uplifting appreciation for the Christmas spirit as something to be lived out every day.

Photos c/o – David Fell