A Christmas Carol adapted by Justin Haigh
The Three Ships Collective with the support of Soup Can Theatre production at Campbell House Museum
With a compassionate heart, this ‘Christmas Carol’ does justice in its telling of the iconic story. This time around, it truly became a ghost story for me and that is a strong appeal of this production.
After seeing this ‘Christmas Carol’, I must say it’s on my list to attend next year.
I had never been to the historic Campbell House Museum so I thought it appropriate to see both in one fell swoop.
I was not disappointed in the least and what a good choice to stage it here since the house’s setting appears Victorian style. When the Goose-Fetching lad (Chloe Bradt) opens the door to purchase the bird on behalf of Scrooge and send it to the Cratchits, you can see cars going by outside on Queen Street.
Did that spoil the illusion for me?
Not in the least because these solid actors remain believably committed to Director Sara Thorpe’s vision that ‘A Christmas Carol’ is very much a ghost story. Work with Dialect Coach John Fleming has paid off as the accents of the actors are natural sounding to my ears.
Playwright Justin Haigh appropriately maintains the integrity of the story’s message of the curmudgeonly protagonist’s conversion of heart through his encounter with Jacob Marley and the three spirits who visit on Christmas Eve. Some liberties are taken with the original story since the action of this adaptation takes place completely inside the Campbell House. Good choices were made along the way to accommodate these adaptations. For example, instead of having Ebenezer stand in front of his grave with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come pointing to the headstone, a good decision was made to have Scrooge die in bed. For me, this makes the story heart-rending and sad since a person died and no one was nearby.
A word of note for future audiences – you move around the house as the story is told.
We begin in the basement of the house where Bob Cratchit (an intensely focused Dan Mousseau) is busy at work waiting for his boss, Ebenezer Scrooge, to arrive. I was the first to arrive in this room and sat down for a half hour before the production began. Mousseau naturally kept busy for that time working at his desk. However, what was highly effective was Mousseau’s convincing me the room was very cold. He had a blanket wrapped around him which becomes an effective prop in the way it is utilized throughout the half-hour pre-show.
One adaptation I found rather convincing was having the ghost of Jacob Marley as narrator at the top of the show instead of appearing to Scrooge later. There is something both compelling and frightening about Marcel Dragonieri’s performance that made me pay attention to every word he said. Even as Dragonieri helps to usher audience members from room to room, his ghostly presence remained strongly felt within me long after I left the building.
Thomas Gough’s lanky frame creates a towering and imposing figure of Ebenezer Scrooge. Like Dragonieri, Gough’s presence is strongly felt even when he is looking upon the action in front of him in the scenes involving the Ghost of Christmas Past (Cihang Ma) and Christmas Present (Kat Lewin). The sound of the ringing bell and the door magically opening to reveal Ma’s presence is haunting. Melissa MacGougan is a chilling Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
There are stand-out performance moments staged in rooms of the house. The Fezziwig Christmas Eve party evokes fun led by Jim Armstrong and Diana ‘Deebs’ Franz’s jovial performance as the hosts of the evening. There is a lovely and touching performance between the young Ebenezer (Michael Hogan) and Scrooge’s first and only love, Belle (Justine Christensen) especially when she releases the man from his promise of engagement to marry. The look in both Hogan’s and Christensen’s eyes says and reflects so much of what they are feeling inside. Very nice work at this moment.
Another noteworthy moment was the Christmas party held at the home of Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Christopher Lucas) and his wife, Alice (Melissa MacGougan). Once again, a very lovely, staged moment between a converted Scrooge and his only nephew and meeting his wife for the first time. Would a hug between the two gentlemen have occurred in the Victorian era? I don’t know about that, but it certainly evokes feelings of family, love, and care for one another in a season celebrating light and love juxtaposed with the dark winter months.
Dan Mousseau , Chloe Bradt, Justine Christensen and Carolyn Hall reveal their solid acting chops in the scene where the Cratchit family mourns the death of Tiny Tim the first Christmas after he has passed away. In the programme, there are two names of actors who play Tim. It wasn’t specified who played the role at the performance I saw.
Doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. Director Thorpe strongly moves the actors so believably real that it touched my heart. Instead of us seeing Tim’s cane by the fireplace, the family is in tableau while he moves slowly out of the room. As head of the house, Mousseau/Cratchit does his best to maintain composure; however, when the father figure breaks, the rest gather around him and do not milk the scene for emotional intensity. Instead, the tableau created says it all, and the actors maintain their complete silence while the audience leaves the room. Once again, nice work here.
Along with the performances, there was so much to admire about this production from Madeline Ius’s costumes that nicely reflect the Victorian era right to the appropriate-looking period props. Kudos to composer and Music Director Pratik Gandhi for the beautiful-sounding music. I especially liked the opening Prelude played by violinist Cihang Ma as it harkened me back to a time long ago.
I do have two slight quibbles. The first is in the re-adjustment of wording in ‘Here We Stand A-Caroling’. From what I remember of the song, it’s “Love and joy, come to you and a Merry Christmas too.” The words ‘Merry Christmas’ were removed and replaced with something else.
Really? Couldn’t the words be left in?
The second occurs when Tim states: “God bless us, everyone.” I was waiting for that line because it’s a recognizable one from the story. I didn’t hear it from Tim unless it was uttered quietly.
Final Comments: I hear the production is sold out for the rest of the run. If you wish to for cancellations, visit christmascarolto.com to be placed on a waiting list.
‘Compassionate, enchanting, ghostly and magical, this ‘Christmas Carol’ put me in a festive spirit.”
I hope you will keep checking to see if there are any cancellations.
Running time: approximately two hours and ten minutes moving throughout the house with no intermission.
‘A Christmas Carol’ runs until December 23 at the Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen Street West, Toronto. To learn more about Soup Can Theatre, visit soupcantheatre.com.
THE THREE SHIPS COLLECTIVE WITH THE SUPPORT OF SOUP CAN THEATRE PRESENTS A Christmas Carol
Director/Co-Producer: Sara Thorpe
Playwright/Assistant Director/Co-Producer: Justin Haigh
Composer/Music Director: Pratik Gandhi
Costumes and Props Designer: Madeline Ius
Stage Manager: Katherine Belyea
Dialect Coach: John Fleming
Performers: Thomas Gough, Dan Mousseau, Marcel Dragonieri, Jim Armstrong, Chloe Bradt, Justine Christensen, Diana ‘Deebs’ Franz, Carolyn Hall, Michael Hogan, Kat Lewin, Christopher Lucas, Cihang Ma, Melissa MacGougan, Alyzia Inès Fabregui/Ava Marquis