A Christmas Carol
Review by Sean McQuaid
Your seasonal scribe has a well–documented passion for Christmas in general and 1843 novella A Christmas Carol in particular; so when the North Shore Players staged their new theatrical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ timeless tale in December, ye olde reviewer headed for North Rustico’s Watemark Theatre like the wise men following the star.
There’s a grain of literal light–seeking truth in that fanciful simile, since Watermark’s play was presented in conjunction with North Rustico’s Festival of Lights. The town’s rainbow–hued array of shiny Christmas displays probably helped draw people to the play and vice versa in a nice little loop of seasonal synergy, and I myself enjoyed a stroll through the lights with my good wife.
The show inside the theatre was considerably darker, and pleasingly so. A Christmas Carol is an often–grim tale of a diabolical old sinner getting scared straight by a dead man and his ghostly accomplices, so a strong current of darkness inevitably runs through it despite the story’s ultimately joyful, hopeful redemptory message.
Director/adapter David Bulger and his cast have many of their finest moments amidst the shadowy aspects of Dickens’ story. The best scenes and performances in this production belong to the aforementioned sinner Scrooge (played by Carl Peterson) and his ghostly tormentors, while the cheerier chunks of the story don’t always land quite as solidly.
Shadows and light are most effectively blended here by Peterson’s Scrooge, and by the always excellent Keir Malone as Scrooge’s long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit. Malone is warm, likeable and genuine as Bob, and heartbreaking as a grieving parent.
Peterson, meanwhile, crafts a uniquely memorable version of a classic character—not just through his distinctive voice and appearance, but also through the considerable physical energy and emotive clarity he brings to the part. Every stage of Scrooge’s emotional roller coaster is made plain. It’s tough finding an actor who can play Scrooge’s nasty and nice sides equally credibly, but Peterson meets the challenge with entertaining and sometimes moving flair.
Fraser McCallum is smoothly charming albeit somewhat affected as Scrooge’s good–natured nephew Fred, while Richard Haines isn’t nearly merry enough as Scrooge’s jovial ex–employer Fezziwig. Part of the problem there might be the fact that the company seems preoccupied by their choreography during the Fezziwig party sequence, concentrating too hard on executing their dance steps to remember that they’re all supposed to be having a good time.
Shifting back to the shadows, McCallum and Haines turn in solid performances doubling as the spirits of Christmas future and present, respectively, though Jan King tops them both as a genuinely spooky spirit of Christmas past, bringing an ethereal, accusatory intensity to the role; but the prize cherry atop this supernatural sundae is Rex McCarville’s creepily superb turn as Jacob Marley’s ghost, perhaps the best rendition of this role I’ve ever seen in any medium. With his haunted gaze, sepulchral tones and anguished howls, he’s equal parts sympathetic and scary. Even your jaded journalist felt a chill or two, momentarily “frighted with false fire.”
The whole production gave me a few chills, in fact—not just the spooky kind, but strongly felt emotion in general, especially from the performances of Peterson, McCarville and King. It’s no small feat bringing fresh feeling to a story as familiar as this, and Bulger’s company achieves it. There are glitches here and there—some of the scene changes run less smoothly than others, for instance—but it’s a strong production overall, and a promising start for the newly minted North Shore Players.