Reviewed by Cynthia Ning
It’s officially the silly season and we are all looking forward to spending the much-needed break with our loved ones. There is hustle and bustle with fairy lights sparkling together with tinsel on houses and people carrying brightly wrapped gifts for their loved ones.
As we made our way winding down the suburb of Kirribilli, we stopped in awe to admire the view on which the theatre sits overlooking the Sydney waters being reminded that we are lucky enough to enjoy a warm Christmas with sandy beaches before being ushered to our seats and transported into the world of Charles Dickens.
Unlike other performances I’ve recently attended, the entire theatre is lit up with the actors still seemingly preparing for the show as they would normally do backstage. Costumes and final touches are being placed while they all sing together with the piano man (Daryl Wallis) who quickly becomes a fan favourite as does the lovely Mr Lenville (Anthony Taufa). Jolly introductions are in order, and we meet the warm Mrs Crummles (Valerie Bader) and proud Mr Crummles (John Bell) doting parents to the musically gifted Infant Phenomenon - Ninetta Crummles (Emily McKnight) who would rather be elsewhere. The music ramps up and the unknowing audience members are encouraged to join in for an acapella and brief story introduction. Then, a blackout.
The mood completely shifts from a warm and welcoming party with friends to a cold and unpleasant room with the ever-distant Ebenezer Scrooge and his freezing but gentle colleague Bob Cratchit (Jay James-Moody) who warms himself up against a real lit candle trying to do his work, hiding excitement for Christmas day and empathy to those less fortunate than him. The instrumentals play an important part in creating an ambience without creating too much distraction and the role of the author is shared between the actors.
Something to note, this show has loud sound effects with a few blackouts which may not be suitable for young children.
The audience members interact with the characters throughout the show breaking the fourth wall in small bursts adding to the comedy. This is a clever touch to break the intensity of the heavy themes present. The whole space is utilised from the stairs to the curtains being manipulated as needed for each scene. Practical props such as chairs and tables are utilised interchangeably from Scrooge’s home to his memories with the aid of quick lighting cues. The near-seamless transitions and well-thought-out scene changes kept a tight running pace which kept the audience engaged and invested in each character.
John Bell has a commanding presence on stage with an effortless performance of a grumpy businessman. He shares the spotlight with his fellow actors well, leading the dialogue in a constant flow and delivering intentional emotional changes. Valerie is captivating as a storyteller, the props and instruments are an extension of her body confidently wielding them as part of her repertoire.
Christmas past played by Jay James-Moody emanates the playfulness and innocence of childhood wearing a paper sailor hat as he gently guides Scrooge to a distant golden memory. He delivers with a soft nature and great comedic timing. Emily McKnight brings to life the two loves of Scrooge's life with tenderness and care and shows off her musical ability as a flautist and supporting percussionist.
Christmas present is played by the joyous and naturally funny Anthony Taufa who is fantastical in appearance and presence, watching over Scrooge as his heart opens and changes. And finally, Christmas future looms around silently to what is to come if he doesn’t change his ways.
The costumes are modern mixed with traditional garments – A nod to the era and the classic story that is truly a timeless masterpiece with meaning and lessons still resonating today and beyond into the future. A simply marvellous choice and approach to revisiting this tale on stage in 2022.
There is a genuine connection between the characters with each emotional stake and revelation piercing the heart. It was wonderful to see each actor looking after one another on stage from the moment we enter the room. Truly a collaborative effort from the entire team. There is something about puppeteering that captivates the audience into believing that they are alive. The Pinocchio effect with magic is provided by the cast. A beautifully presented show that comes from the heart.
As we come to a close, John speaks to the audience with an endearing acknowledgement of the author Charles Dickens and continues his mission by asking for donations as we sadly say goodbye.
He has also made sure there was a digital way of paying, so there is no way out if you are wondering.
We walked out feeling the spirit of Christmas and remembering the importance of family, loved ones and giving to those less fortunate to help make their day a little brighter as it is all too easy to forget in the consumerist world we live in today.
With all that being said, don’t be a solitary oyster this Christmas and come enjoy the show with a special someone.
A Christmas Carol is now showing at Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, from the 25th of November – the 29th
of December 2022.