Journey to Victorian London and immerse yourself in the joys of Christmas with this stunning Old Vic revival of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. A truly unique theatre experience, this production encompasses the heart, soul and meaning of what makes the festive season so special.
After travelling through London, Broadway and across the US, winning five Tony Awards along the way, this truly magical production made its first stop in Melbourne for the 2022 festive season. After much critical acclaim, including our own 5-star review, Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre has once again been transported into the heart of Victorian London. With mince pies, lantern lighting and uplifting tunes aplenty, the stage is set for an unforgettable experience.
This classic tale tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s (Owen Teale) emotional redemption, as he learns from his past, present and future to recapture the joyful spark he once lost.
Thanks to some remarkably-immersive pre-show entertainment, a sense of festive delight and wonder sweeps over the audience long before the narrative even begins. Picture this – you enter the theatre to be greeted by an opulent rooftop lined with lanterns, there’s mince pies being served by cast members in top hats and the band is filling the room with stirring instrumental tunes. Before long, the cast is interacting with the audience, gifting fruit into the crowd and spreading the spirit of Christmas.
My biggest praise for this production is that it’s a masterclass in lighting and sound design. As the lighting designer, Hugh Vanstone’s work is exquisite in bringing the stage to life and strengthening the atmosphere. I was sufficiently awestruck and consistently amazed by the impressive use of soft lantern lighting to enhance the immersion of key scenes. So much of the stage is shrouded in a veil of darkness, that even the most subtle sprinkling of light from a single lantern makes a huge impact. From moments of joy to moments of fear, the lighting plays a crucial role in amplifying the mood.
Speaking of immersion, Simon Baker’s sound design is utterly fantastic. Something so simple as adding authentic, perfectly-timed sound effects to the opening and closing of imaginary doors goes a long way. I felt like a kid on Christmas every time a door was opened or closed. The best part about it is that it’s entirely unnecessary – we know it’s a door, but something about the addition of audio makes it that much more engaging. There’s some great big instances of genius sound design, but it’s all the little instances accompanying character actions that have the greatest impact.
The narrative itself is one of the most timeless Christmas tales, a cultural phenomenon to this day. Even if you’ve never seen it play out before, as I hadn’t, you’ve most likely caught wind of the general themes and concept. Yes, it harbours a core uplifting message about redemption and embracing love, and it’s set to the backdrop of Christmas, but it’s also a deeply sombre story. It delves into some dark and emotional places, and all the while I found myself so thoroughly invested in the story that I couldn’t wait to see it all play out.
In contrast to the production’s more sorrowful moments, there’s minor instances of humour strewn throughout that keep the audience lively. These beats are initially scarce, but they create a nicely weighted balance that leads in to the explosive climax. The fun-filled audience interaction doesn’t stop with the pre-show, if anything that’s just a primer for what’s yet to come. The surprise of what goes down towards the end of the production is so incredible of an experience that I can’t possibly spoil it here. I’ll just say that it amps up the fun to an 11 and delivers a sensory overload that had the entire audience roaring with laughter.
In a strange turn of events, while sitting in the stalls is most certainly appealing, it’s the dress circle which is able to capture all aspects of the production’s inventive staging. You don’t receive a lesser experience if you’re sitting in the stalls, but having a balcony view is certainly the way to go if you want the whole package.
Lastly, the actors are great across the board, led this time by the wonderful acting talents of Owen Teale, taking over for David Wenham. Teale’s take on Scrooge complements what Wenham bought to the role, while bringing his own grouchy flair to the table. His instances of manic behaviour and crazed ramblings aren’t quite as exaggerated, nor memorable, but they’re equally impactful. Where Teale excels is in drawing emotion from the audience – he nails the narrative’s most touching and uplifting moments to evoke tears of both sorrow and laughter.
Of the supporting cast, the two who really stand out and made an impact were Bernard Curry (Bob) and Debra Lawrance (Ghost of Christmas Past). Their roles aren’t particularly massive, but they made the most of their scenes and captured my attention more than others. Additionally, Aisha Aidara joined the ensemble as Little Fan and undeniably crushed her performance. Her radiating enthusiasm put a bright smile on everyone’s face from the moment she first appears, and she continues to be a highlight through her every scene.
It was said last year and I’ll say it again – A Christmas Carol is one of the best productions ever staged. A festive delight from beginning to end, this is not just a ‘production’, it’s a truly immersive theatre experience that’s not to be missed. Charles Dickens’ timeless narrative has been revived and retold in a way that authentically demonstrates the importance of opening up your heart to the joy of Christmas. Gather your friends, round up the family and witness the theatre event that has all of Melbourne buzzing with festive excitement.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
A Christmas Carol is playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne through to January 7th, 2024. For more information and to purchase tickets, head HERE.
Reviewer attended on Thursday 23rd November, 2023
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby