Sometimes following tradition is the best way to go.
For more than a dozen years Theatre Calgary has staged the classic Charles Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol. This year's rendition is nothing short of enchanting.
With Stephen Hair as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol is brought to life. From conveying the initial wretchedness that pumps through his body, to portraying the giddy and joyous man that emerges at the end of his journey, Hair is brilliant.
Accompanied by a sweet and humble Bob Cratchit (Christopher Hunt) and a delightfully cheery Fezziwig (Grant Linneberg), Hair leads audiences on the noble and magical journey.
With minimal, yet effective, sets, A Christmas Carol, dealt with numerous set changes with ease. Simple entrances and exits of the furniture rarely disrupted the telling of the story. However, the narration was a bit melodramatic, but nothing that caused major annoyance.
The well-known story of a miserable old man's quest to find the true meaning of Christmas and life was recanted with some new twists. This year there were new pyrotechnics and a wandering musician (Jonathan Lewis of the Plaid Tongued Devils) not to mention a tremendously spry Scrooge.
Delighting the children in the audience with his antics, Scrooge portrayed a plethora of emotions with sincerity and honesty. His jittery fear of the spirits was believable, his pain at witnessing the horrid future evoked sympathy, and his zealous dances when he was infected with love brought laughter from all.
The costuming was elaborate and seldomly distracted attention from the performers. Instead, the lavish gowns and sleek pantsuits created a fantasy Victorian world complete with hoop skirts and corsets. However, bonnets worn by actresses often created visibility problems as they did not position themselves at a steep enough angle to correct for the bonnet's blockage. This was frustrating as dialogue was sometimes thrust towards backstage and not towards audience. The actors' projection was usually able to compensate, but some lines were muffled The furniture also added to the believability of the time period, creating a rustic and antiquated mood.
The main distraction was lighting. Although used effectively in some dramatic moments, often the lighting threw stark shadows on cast members, creating ominous and ghastly looks on their faces. The narrators were often lost in the looming darkness that enveloped the rear of the stage.
These minor problems were overshadowed by the acting of Hair and Hunt who injected new life into the 150 year-old characters. With grace and subtlety, Hunt delivered his performance of a gentle Cratchit while Hair utilized flamboyant and exaggerated gestures to resurrect the character of Scrooge--both were highly effective
If you have seen the tale performed before and are worried about repetition, do not fret. Hair invigorates the elderly Scrooge and makes the trip worthwhile.
A Christmas Carol runs until Dec. 24 in the Max Bell Theatre.