I hate Christmas.
Actually, that is a bit of a lie. I used to hate Christmas, a lot. I found that it is a time where many only think to do charitable things for one moment of the year, instead of practicing goodness and kindness all-year round. I have experienced that people can be very fake during Christmas, to the point where it is difficult to differentiate who the genuine people are. And I also believe that people become more self-absorbed and selfish during Christmas, probably through my past experiences working in retail where disorganised individuals would blame you if they wouldn’t get their way and would snap that “you ruined Christmas” if the item they wanted to get for a loved one was out of stock.
During my childhood, my family never tried to convince me that Santa exists, and my Filipino mum would put the Christmas tree up as early as September, wrapping empty boxes to put under the tree for decoration – no presents.
During one Christmas, after experiencing domestic violence and running away to a friend’s house on Christmas Day, and after walking two suburbs to where they lived for safety, I was turned away to walk all the way back home during the one-time of the year that I believed people should be at their kindest, the most understanding, and unconditionally charitable.
Admittedly, all this is why I’ve had such a displeasure for Christmas. So, I believe it would come as no surprise that I relate to Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol the most.
In this Melbourne exclusive run of An Old Vic Production’s A Christmas Carol is a play inspired by Charles Dickens’ classic tale, reimagined by Jack Thorne, conceived, and directed by Matthew Warchus, and produced in Australia by GWB Entertainment, we see the story of Scrooge visited by three ghosts, with Ebenezer Scrooge played by the incomparable David Wenham. Although the story has been told before in a variety of ways, this retelling of A Christmas Carol feels modern, refreshing, and it is wonderful.
As soon as you set foot in the theatre, it hard to not notice how gorgeous the set and lighting design is by both Rob Howell and Hugh Vanstone respectively, with so many lanterns hanging from the ceiling above the stage and around the theatre, including from the dress-circle overhang for audiences in the stalls section to notice. Not only hanging above, but there are also piles of lanterns at each end of the stage, with evident chains, setting the mood for the classic Christmas tale.
Once again, the clever set design is notable, transforming into money boxes, a table, and even bedroom doors. The sound design by Simon Baker is genius, creating the illusion of locking and opening doors. The lighting design also smartly plays its part, providing dramatic effect with ghosts appearing and disappearing. But for the most part, this production is quite stripped back. The set rarely ever changes, and this is because the show wants you to focus on the brilliant characters that Charles Dickens created no less than 179 years ago, and the power of its classic story. The production version of the story slightly differs to the novel, but at its core, it is the same.
With the costuming assisting in taking audiences back in time to old London town during the Victorian era, the entire cast throw their heart and soul into this production, and it shows. Those that pride themselves on arriving early to the theatre will be rewarded with delightful pre-show entertainment including music and treats, the treats consisting of tasty sweet mince pies and mandarins. So, I would highly recommend coming early for the full experience.
While the entire cast are great, there are a few I must mention. Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward is wonderful in their professional theatre debut as Young Scrooge, with many inspiring moments that were incredibly moving. I also really wanted my own bird plushie to play with, much like Young Scrooge had. Anthony Harkin who plays duel roles as both Scrooge’s harsh and strict father, and Scrooge’s former business partner Marley, is both terrifying and fantastic. Andrew Coshan is so genuinely endearing as Scrooge’s doting nephew, Fred who means well and just wants to care and love his stubborn uncle. Bernard Curry is so convincing as Scrooge’s employee and struggling father, Bob Cratchit, and while I am aware Curry has more work on-screen in film and television, the stage is so lucky to have him right now and I wish that Curry would take on more theatre roles in future as they suit him so well.
A Christmas Carol is nothing without its ghosts, and Debra Lawrance, Samantha Morley, and Emily Nkomo do a wonderful job filling these plot-defining roles and making them their own. The special role of Tiny Tim is shared amongst four young talented actors; Alexis Abela, Sasha Hampson, Evie Rose Hennessy, and Theo Watson-Bonnice. I’ve only seen Hennessy and Watson-Bonnice play Tiny Tim so far, and they each had their own interpretation of the role which was a joy to watch.
The true heart of the production is of course, none other than Mr. David Wenham himself in the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge. I loved this version of Scrooge. Although a grumpy man who has lived a hard life, surprisingly, I found that he is not wrong about many things. Many points which I agreed with. And while I’ve seen Wenham on-screen before, I’ve never had the honour of witnessing him on stage until now and seeing Wenham work his magic as Scrooge is worth every cent. His transformation as Scrooge from a relatable jaded recluse and evidently hurting individual to a man with a beaming smile, full of hope and wearing his heart on his sleeve is something that all theatre goers must witness. This show is now my favourite thing that I have seen David Wenham in.
For those that love Christmas, this production is every inch as festive as you would expect it to be. Although not a musical, A Christmas Carol is filled with Christmas songs with their own unique spin that you are bound to adore.
It’s no surprise that A Christmas Carol has won 5 Tony Awards. A Christmas Carol makes full use of Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre, with the entire venue being part of the show. I have always loved it when theatre productions are interactive with its audience, but this is the most interactive I have ever witnessed. You feel you are a part of Scrooge’s story, and it is such a wholesome and endearing journey to experience. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I loved every minute of it. It even warmed my own stubborn heart with the Christmas spirit and moved me to tears.
A Christmas Carol is not afraid to reminds us (it reminded me) that the magic of Christmas is never truly gone and that kindness still exists, and it is executed in the most creative and beautiful way. I guarantee that if you do see this show, you will leave the theatre with your heart full of happiness and love for not only Christmas and Australian theatre, but for life. This production is filled with heartfelt uplifting messages, positive energy, and although I’ve long left the theatre, this show will stay with me for years to come.
A Christmas Carol is playing exclusively in Melbourne for limited time at the Comedy Theatre until December 29th.
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Photography by Jeff Busby.