A Christmas Carol has returned to Melbourne! After a stellar 2022 Season, the 1843 Charles Dickens classic has reopened at the Comedy Theatre. Why might you ask? Well, I say why not! After all, Christmas only comes once a year, and I couldn’t think of a better way to get into the Christmas spirit than with this fantastic stage production.
On London’s West End, it is not uncommon for the Old Vic Theatre production to return each year, but with one major change; the role of Scrooge is portrayed by a new actor each time. Last year saw David Wenham as Ebenezer Scrooge. In 2023, Game of Thrones star Owen Teale steps into the role. With Teale having performed as Scrooge in last year’s West End production, I was excited to see what he would bring to the role here and how it would impact the overall feel of the show.
In a version by Jack Thorne and directed by Matthew Warchus, A Christmas Carol is a timeless classic and a tale that has been done time and time again. Ebenezer Scrooge is a feared financier, holding his debtors to account without hesitation. The town is poor, and many have been forced to sell their businesses to keep with the payments Scrooge has set. However, the ghost of his business partner appears to him on Christmas Eve, disappointed with how things have panned out. Seeking to set Scrooge straight, he warns of three ghosts that will appear to him. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
The Comedy Theatre has been transformed, with lanterns hanging from the ceiling, all the way up to the upper level of the dress circle. It was just as breathtaking as the first time I saw it last year.
The lanterns provide a sense of warmth as you settle into your seats. And just as the show is about to start, several cast members appear as towns folk, cheering “Merry Christmas” to those in their seats whilst handing out mince pies and oranges. Musicians appear on stage playing folk songs with a carols twist whilst other cast try their hands at throwing oranges to the patrons. One ensemble member even threw some all the way up to the dress circle and I was lucky enough to catch one. This prelude provided a light-hearted appetiser for what is quite a dark tale.
The wonderful 2023 production sees a lot of returning cast, quite a few new faces, and are all fantastic. Some worthy mentions to Bernard Curry returning as Scrooge’s employee, Bob Cratchit. Yet another stellar portrayal of a struggling father and whilst his character has every right to be angry, he stays humble and endearing. Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward and Andrew Coshan return as Young Scrooge and Nephew Fred respectively, they’re both are just as good this time around. Anthony Harkin also impressively returns and is superbly commanding as Scrooge’s horribly strict father and the spirit of his former partner, Marley.
Newcomers see Deirdre Khoo as Fred’s wife, Jess, and is brilliant in her role. We also have a new set of young performers in the role of Tiny Tim consisting of Alexis Abela, Mira Feldman, Evie Rose Hennesy, and Libby Segal. I saw Abela in the role at my performance. She was so sweet, and I couldn’t help but let out an audible awe with her portrayal of frail young boy in the second act.
Of course, we have the three ghosts of Past, Present, and Future portrayed by returning performers Debra Lawrance (Past), Samantha Morely (Present), and new addition Aisha Aidara (Future). Each are the right amounts of scary, authoritative, and endearing.
Then, there is of course Ebenezer Scrooge. Having only ever seen Owen Teale in his role on television epic Game of Thrones, I had no idea what to expect. Safe to say, I was completely blown away. Teale is the perfect version of the grumpy humbug Scrooge we all know so well. The anger and frustration in his voice sent chills down my spine. But when he travels to the past, Teale switches to a boyish and happy individual which had me teary at moments I never thought I would be.
Teale’s persona changed each time he visited a different point in time, and I absolutely loved that about his performance, fierce, tender and sincere, adding so much depth to renown character. This impressive performance also easily showed the evolution on how Ebenezer Scrooge came to be the man he is today. Not to say the Scrooges that proceeded Teale on stage are not fantastic in their own right, but Teale is easily the best one I have seen. I was completely in awe. At one point, his performance even moved me to tears.
Adding to the brilliant casting and fantastic writing of this production is the use of sound and lighting to add the necessary drama and suspense to the tale. With sound by Simon Baker and lighting by Hugh Vanstone, I was transported through time as each ghost appeared. The simplistic yet dramatic set design and brilliant costuming by Rob Howell only enhanced the experience. The entire creative team should be proud of what they produced. It really feels magical. The cast can be great, but without these special tools and effects behind them, the show can fall flat, and A Christmas Carol is anything but.
I thoroughly enjoyed my return to A Christmas Carol. I didn’t know what to expect upon seeing the same production, a whole year apart. The heart of the show is still very much present, but with a little personal touch from the new performers. If you were to see last years show and this year’s side by side, I bet you will feel a different range of emotions. This is what I love about theatre, it doesn’t matter how many times you see the same show, even within the same season, there will almost always be something new that surprises you.
I am so glad that this production has returned to Melbourne and I hope that the tradition continues into coming years with a new Scrooge each time. For now, you can catch A Christmas Carol at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre, with performances running until January 7. Tickets are selling fast, so don’t miss your opportunity to see one of this holiday season’s best shows yet.
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Photography Jeff Busby.