Charles Dickens’ timeless tale will be adapted and re-told as long as there are theatres and TV and movie screens in the world, with the magic of his story being that, while it’s a relatively simple tale, the impact of its message is never diluted through re-telling.
So, while we have seen many an adaptation of the novella over the years, stage versions of the play are not too common on the local stage, compared to Europe where they are much more of a Christmas tradition. It’s wonderful to see this tradition come to the Australian stages so that Christmas-loving theatregoers can get into the festive spirit early, given we’re still a few weeks out from Christmas Day itself.
Dickens’ 1843 novella tells the story of a selfish and greedy old man, Ebenezer Scrooge, who hates everything related to Christmas. Ultimately a tale of compassion and redemption, after being visited by Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, Scrooge is changed into a better man.
Adapted by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), this version of the tale was first staged at London’s Old Vic in 2017, and has been staged at Christmastime every year since, including a remote version streamed on Zoom in 2020.
For this local version, we’re blessed to have one of our country’s finest actors, David Wenham, take on the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge, and he devours the role with some expected theatricality but also some surprising subtle notes and some truly moving moments.
The staging of the show is sublime. Even before the show begins, you have costumed vendors wandering the aisles handing out mince pies and mandarins to the audience, while a troupe of on-stage musicians play carols to get everyone in the spirit of the season.
Once the play begins, you truly appreciate the staging and lighting utilised as old-fashioned lanterns litter the stage and above the audience and are used to provide some truly impressive visuals at pivotal points in the play.
Wenham’s performance is fantastic but I wonder if the choice was made to soften the edges of Scrooge a bit in Thorne’s adaptation, which does take liberties with the source material. Wenham’s Scrooge here seems more mildly grumpy and not such a bad guy than the truly unpleasant misanthrope other adaptations often depict him as, and as a result, the redemption of his character is not quite as impactful as I have seen in other versions.
“A Christmas Carol is a ripping yarn, this production is as compelling as it is surprising. I’m counting the days to get back on the stage in the role of Scrooge. It’s a story of hope, redemption and community. I guarantee the audience will leave the theatre feeling better about themselves and the world at the end of the show. A perfect story to be told at Christmas time.” – David Wenham
I’m torn about Thorne’s changes to the novella. On the one hand, I certainly respect trying something different with a new adaptation rather than just doing what has been done before, but on the other hand, when dealing with such a perfect piece of literature as A Christmas Carol is, very few changes are really needed to what is already a perfectly structured story.
That said, this is still a mostly faithful adaptation that for people not as familiar with the story should not have any issues with, and the finale (in which many incredible surprises await the audience, I’ll not spoil anything and will just leave it at that) is a magical coming together of sorts and ends the show on a truly amazing note.
A Christmas Carol is not the best adaptation of the tale I’ve seen, but is a very respectable and well-produced effort, and well worth seeing for Wenham’s performance alone. Here’s hoping the staging of this adaptation becomes an annual tradition on the local stage and future generations can enjoy this festive tale for decades to come.
Now playing at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre until December 29. Tickets and more info can be found at: https://christmascarolaustralia.com.au/