Gerry Mackay (Ghost of Christmas Past), Amanda Lisman (Belle), Conor Wylie (Young Ebenezer) and Tom McBeath (Ebenezer Scrooge) star in A Christmas Carol, on until Dec. 17 at The Belfry Theatre. Photo by Don Craig

Belfry’s Christmas Carol loyal to original story

Victoria production runs through Dec. 17 in Fernwood

When a theatre company mounts a production of a beloved classic story, there’s always a risk of presenting an interpretation that falls short of audience members’ expectations.

Belfry Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol, on now through Dec. 17, hits the mark with its rendering of this classic Charles Dickens holiday tale, especially for someone whose memory of Scrooge began with the 1951 movie of the same name starring Alistair Sim.

From Tom McBeath’s multi-layered portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly and cold-hearted loner who gets visited by spirits aiming to reform his character; to the effective and efficient use of the Belfry stage to convey varied settings and create interesting choreographic elements, the cast and crew pulled off a winning performance on opening night.

Having played the role a couple of years back, McBeath expertly ran through a range of emotions, showing the joys and heartbreak of Scrooge’s young life and the personal redemption that Dickens wrote for the character back in 1843.

The pace of the production, adapted for stage by Belfry artistic director Michael Shamata, who also directed, was measured but didn’t seem to drag. It gave audience members a chance to think about the overarching theme, which seems as relevant today as it did in the mid-19th century.

There were a few points along the way when Scrooge was left alone on stage waiting – twice for the arrival of a spirit and once for the arrival at the office on Dec. 26 of Bob Cratchit – and it may have seemed that someone missed their cue. Not sure whether those moments were planned or not, but each offered a chance for McBeath to illustrate Scrooge’s impatience.

The supporting cast were strong, including Evan Frayne as the meek, but kindhearted Bob Cratchit (on top of other smaller roles); Conor Wylie as Fred, the nephew determined to have Scrooge share Christmas; Celine Stubel as the much-suffering Mrs. Cratchit, and the Cratchit children (William Robertson, Peter; Lauren Alberico, Martha; Azura Lepard, Belinda, and Jude Culham-Keays, Tiny Tim) ably captured the spirit of the family.

While his scene is somewhat short, Brian Linds returns as Mr. Fezziwig, providing a burst of energy as the life of a past Christmas office party and showing why he earns Scrooge’s adoration as a man who brings happiness “quite as great as if it costs a fortune.”

The often present spirits (John Han and choreographer Jessica Hickman), who entered and exited the stage with a flourish, were a nice touch, adding layers of depth and continuity.

And the presence of Gerry Mackay, first as the narrator and later as the spirits of Christmas past, present and yet to come who visited Scrooge, was a common thread running through the performance. He did some foreshadowing in the opening scene, telling the audience that the “ghost light” on stage would not be needed tonight, as this was a “ghost story.”

Overall, Shamata’s script and the performances given remained quite faithful to the original story. Those who appreciate tradition will walk out impressed, while those who may not know the story may well find themselves searching out versions of A Christmas Carol on cable TV.

editor@vicnews.com

On stage:

A Christmas Carol plays every day except for Mondays from now through Dec. 17 at The Belfry Theatre

• Shows run nightly at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Matinees run at 1 p.m. Dec. 6 and 13; 4 p.m. Dec. 9 and 16 and 2 p.m. on Dec. 10 and 17.

• Tickets may be purchased online by clicking on individual shows at belfry.bc.ca/calendar, or by dropping by the theatre box office at 1291 Gladstone Ave.

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