Review: Gateway Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol”
Eggnog, Christmas trees, that Mariah Carey hit. It’s hard to imagine the holidays without some of these classic and iconic symbols. Certainly, Charles Dickens’ now legendary winter tale A Christmas Carol not only fits into that category, but has become synonymous with the holidays.
It’s been redone and reimagined with the likes of anyone from Mickey Mouse and The Muppets to Jim Carrey and Billy Murray. For nearly 175 years, Dickens’ holiday ghost story has earned its position in the hearts and homes of worldwide connoisseurs in formats of books, films, musicals, and virtually any other platform. Heck, this year, Dickens is back on the screen as the protagonist in a film whose title suggests Dickens himself is The Man Who Invented Christmas.
It makes sense then that The Gateway Theatre would pluck A Christmas Carol as their yuletide family-friendly production. This year, the company takes a break from their long standing tradition of a Christmas musical, substituting in the heartwarming tale of Scrooge in place of the likes of their recent holiday hits that feature dancing scarecrows and trombone-wielding con men.
For those looking for a holiday-infused activity, Gateway’s Carol packs in the yuletide cheer. There are carols, festive decor on stage (including a beautiful snow capped finale), and, naturally, the yuletide-dripping tale at the core. But, even though fare like The Wizard of Oz isn’t necessarily a Christmas-themed show, that felt more joyous and somehow even more Christmassy.
Removing the amount of holiday cheer per cappa, Gateway succeeds in its storytelling, its visuals, and its vision. Director Rachel Peake has been careful and calculated in realising this show as a cohesive entity. It looks beautiful from start to finish, and its cast are almost seamless in their depictions and transitions.
As titular wealthy Ebenezer Scrooge, Russell Roberts does Dickens proud. Carrying the majority of the show, and appearing throughout its entirety, Roberts disappears very early and becomes Scrooge in a performance that defines the idea of a believable villain. You loathe him at the start, you empathise for him throughout, and you cheer him on in his resulting triumph.
Most of the cast is flawless and execute their roles perfectly. The one exception is Allan Morgan, who appears as multiple characters throughout (Jacob Marley’s Ghost, The Spirit of Christmas Present, Mr. Fezziwig, and the Narrator), and manages to make them all blend and blur together into one over the top mess.
Thankfully, a large supporting cast full of brilliant rays of light onstage shine collectively. Standouts include Emily Jane King as a radiant and optimistic Spirit of Christmas Past, and Adam Olgui as Bob Cratchit / Dick Wilkins and Matthias Falvai as Peter Cratchit / Topper.
In terms of production, Gateway’s sparkle shines well in Dickens’ England, with a unique stage design by Drew Facey that invokes old London aesthetics but somehow feels refreshingly contemporary. The set has lush and minimalist elements that work well together. Combining the two worlds, we have a quasi-scaffolding looking backdrop filled with cushy looking chairs in Scrooge’s study. Later, an industrial-looking rolling set of stairs that transport Scrooge and The Spirit of Christmas Present through the air.
Bridging the gap, we have a story at the center that is so iconic and timeless, everything else is just details. Luckily, Gateway’s details are just the perfect amount of Christmas sparkle to bring out the shine.
Main image: Russell Robert and Allan Morgan in Gateway Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol. All photography by David Cooper.
A Christmas Carol: Written by Charles Dickens. Adapted by Michael Shamata. Directed by Rachel Peake.