Christmas, Limelight

KXT Theatre, Kings Cross, Sydney
December 14, 2017

In adapting Charles Dickens’ classic 1843 novella A Christmas Carol for the modern age, Melissa Lee Speyer has done a great job of introducing all kinds of modern references – from climate change to Playschool to Centrelink – and yet retained much of the original story as well as Dickens’ style of writing and the uplifting sentiment that we all love so well.

The production begins in a familiar vein with the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge (Bobbie-Jean Henning) – who here believes that since Centrelink exists, he’s done his bit by paying his taxes – exploiting his clerk Bob Cratchit (Monica Sayers) and still paying him 15 shillings a week. Going home on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and then the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.

Cast members of A Christmas Carol. Photograph © Omnes Photography

Here though, the Ghost of Christmas Past is a cheery Playschool presenter in a knitted sweater (a very funny performance by Michael Yore), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Aslam Abdus-samad) is a sardonic, worn-out party-goer, while the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a silent figure in a gas mask who instead of revealing Scrooge’s funeral shows him the world after some kind of apocalyptic event.

Scrooge’s kindly first employer Mr Fezziwig is a more morally ambiguous figure than in the novel, as is Bob Cratchit, here determined to emulate his employer, and Scrooge’s jovial nephew Fred, a pretentious foodie, who may ask after Bob’s family but isn’t interested in the reply. Tiny Tim, meanwhile, is no longer a child on crutches but a teenager with a mental disability who flies into rages and has bitten his mother more than once.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge an incredibly poignant scene featuring Tiny Tim and his family. Speyer throws in various other surprises, but never loses the essence of Dickens’ original, retaining many of its key lines.

Bobbie-Jean Henning as Scrooge. Photograph © Omnes Photography

Produced by indie company Lies, Lies and Propaganda, in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co, A Christmas Carol is directed by Michael Dean who, together with a terrific ensemble cast, has created a strong physical language for the production. The performers narrate the story and then segue into scenes. Meanwhile, Miles Elkington accompanies the action from a keyboard at the side of the stage, underscoring much of the action with his own compositions and accompanying a number of songs including Wham!’s Last Christmas and a lovely rendition of All I Want for Christmas is You by Bishanyia Vincent.

The production manages to feel period, nostalgic and yet spikily contemporary all at the same time. I hadn’t expected an up-dated version that introduces zombies to retain the charm of Dickens’ original but it walks that fine line cleverly. And when Scrooge awakes on Christmas morning, determined to mend his ways, and buys the giant turkey to share with the Cratchit family, the heart soars as it always does.

Clearly produced on the smell of an oily rag, this is an inventive, surprising production and well worth a look.

A Christmas Carol plays at KXT Theatre until December 24