God bless you lonely gentlemen
After an eight-month hiatus and just in time for the holidays, Blue Bridge Repertory returns to the stage with a one-man, live-streamed performance of Charles Dickens’s festive classic, A Christmas Carol. With its modest set pieces and conservative handling of the novel’s material, director Jacob Richmond’s production offers much-needed comfort in a time of isolation but lags behind more-innovative past adaptations.
Taking the stage in a stove-pipe hat, rich cravat, and frock coat, Stratford and Shaw festival veteran Sanjay Talwar embodies the overactive narrator of Dickens’s tale. Though he goes through all the motions, Talwar never fully steps out of this role and into character. The marvel here lies not, as it has in some of Richmond’s more recent productions, in the actor’s ability to swap appearances but in his command of tone. Talwar voices Scrooge with all the callousness and nasal condescension essential to the irascible miser and Tiny Tim with his signature breathy innocence. Scrooge’s clipped volleys at his too-kind nephew, whose Christmas spirit is unassailable in Talwar’s jocund rendering, showcase the veteran’s uncommon versatility.
Many of Talwar’s impressively quick shifts between characters’ distinct voices depend on Alex Wlasenko’s atmospheric sound design; precisely timed reverb lends the haunting basso of Marley and the first two spirits otherworldly depth, and the third spirit’s dead silence throughout Scrooge’s frantic monologue would fall flat without the wind wailing relentlessly in the background. Sadly, much of this aural depth is lost in translation — Zoom streaming is not renowned for its audio quality. Confined to a marble fireplace flanked by a dais and a landing, each with its own tall window that looks out on Dickensian London’s darkened silhouette, Rebekah Johnson’s modest but cozy set is marred by similar troubles on the video end.
Likely by chance rather than by design, Blue Bridge could not have chosen a better time to stage Dickens’s poverty-conscious tale. Annual food expenditures are expected to increase by five per cent for Canadian households in 2021, according to Canada’s Food Price Report. North American billionaires have raked in over one trillion dollars since the beginning of the pandemic. This story’s festively masked concern with wealth disparity could have been a cue for discourse. That Dickens’s novel ends on a note of universal human goodwill and generosity should not deter us from the fact that this happy ending only occurs because the rich miser, the man best positioned to make an impact with his generosity, decides to practice it.
During the Depression years, American versions of A Christmas Carol foregrounded its underlying theme of economic uncertainty to suit an audience all too familiar with poverty. Just last year, Jack Thorne’s stage adaptation at The Lyceum (Broadway) placed the tale’s social conscience front and centre and deftly contemporized it. Considering these precedents, Richmond’s staging is urbanely quiescent on the social front.
Though agnostic in its presentation of Dickens’s social concerns, Blue Bridge’s A Christmas Carol is undeniably spirited and genuinely touching. It has all the warmth of a fireside chat with an elderly relative and is a welcome paean to togetherness in a time of isolation. If you’re looking for an uncomplicated, honest retelling of a much-loved favourite, you won’t be disappointed here.
A Christmas Carol is being live streamed from The Roxy until Dec. 20.