Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most overdone stories in literature- even The Muppets and Disney’s Mickey Mouse have taken a stab at this classic. It is performed on a yearly basis at The Goodman and countless other theatres around town, around the country, and around the world. To be honest, I thought I was over it…
EDGE Theatre’s A Steampunk Christmas Carol offers a bright solution to this timeless and, let’s be honest here, dusty old tale. Set in Victorian England (and featuring a slew of British accents with varying accuracy), this reimagining of A Christmas Carol features mechanized ghosts, a world torn between commercial advancement and human value, and a lot of very stunning costume pieces. If a production is billed as “steampunk”, it has an innate duty to provide that visual element, and costume designer Delena Bradley did not disappoint. The work she was able to accomplish with what I can only assume was a store-front theatre budget was astounding. From the headpiece on X-2 to the gears on Tiny Tim’s legs, it was clear that both Bradley’s intellect and heart influenced her exceptional work.
Much of the success of this production also comes from the writing. Playwright Jared McDaris has created a whole and unique world capable of not only handling its story but of enhancing its meaning. Concepts of what it means to create life, the hypocrisy of consumerism, and oppressive disparity of wealth between the 1% and the rest of society were blatantly addressed in McDaris’ script. Instead of witnessing the “revolution” of yet another old, successful, white, male soul, I found myself more interested in the world around the soul in question and how its inhabitants handled their successes and failures.
I was particularly drawn to the soul of Mad Madam Fizzlewig (an eccentric turn by Lana Whittington). Her success came in the form of bringing her Creation (Sarah Jean Tilford) to life, which was a fun nod to Victorian novelist Mary Shelley. For Fizzelwig, creating life was her art and the source of her spiritual income. She never intended to create for monetary gain or to further advance herself in business (unlike Scrooge and Marley), rendering her one of the truly happiest people in the story. Lana Whittington’s performance also inspired these concepts to shine through as she tossed herself around the stage with an incredible vigour, radiating kindness and excitement. I want to be Mad Madam Fizzlewig when I grow up.
Joshua Carroll had an uphill battle in his portrayal of Scrooge, however I felt that his “weakness” became his strength in this production. Carroll’s problem (if you can even call it that) is that his essence is SO DARN LIKABLE whereas most Scrooges are merely curmudgeonly grumps. I felt that Carroll’s onstage likability put his character in a whole new light as his Scrooge-like behaviour became a choice that Scrooge actively made in order to protect himself from human interaction, and in turn, disappointment and sadness. Seeing the cracks in Scrooge’s nature led me to actually believe, for once, that he was a changed man by the end of the play.
It was clear that the actors in this show were having a wonderful time and capitalized on children’s theatre performance styles to enhance the audience experience. I was particularly fond of X-2 as portrayed by Gilly Guire (channelling Star Wars’ C-3PO), the earnestness of Barb Ratchet (Katy Jenkins) and the Ratchet family, and the terror of the Ghost of Marley (Rick Olson). While the ability and experience level of the actors encompasses a wide range, the entire ensemble is committed to bringing energy with them on stage. It is worth noting that, at times, this energy threatened to overpower the story being told and seemed to bounce off the walls instead of between performers. However, any moments of uncertainty were quickly overleapt in favour of a tender or comedic twist, such as the initial childlike romance between The Creation (Sarah Jean Tilford) and Young Scrooge (Nathan Ducker).
A Steampunk Christmas Carol is more than worth the viewing and runs for one more weekend at the Heartland Studio. If you see a holiday play this year, I hope it is this one.
**please note that I do know several of the performers in this play on a personal level, however I have attempted, to the best of my ability, to remain impartial in my review**
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