Friday, November 29, 2019

A Christmas Carol – a fun, family-friendly and fast-paced show (The MAC until 5 January)

When it comes to Christmas theatre shows, the key is to know your audience. While the advice should apply at all times of the year, it’s particularly crucial for festive events. After all, it should be a crime against the arts (not to mention funders) not to grasp the opportunity to superserve those who only attend out of annual habit in order to lure them into coming back to something else before the end of next year.

This year’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol in The MAC knows what it’s doing. At what other time of the year would it would be proper to include a song that includes a list of corny (cracker) jokes? But that was the moment in last’s night performance that sealed the deal and won over the hearts of the youngest audience members, and with them, their grown-up family and friends, who giggled easily through the rest of the show.

Tara Lynne O’Neill and Simon Magill’s script places Ebenezer Scrooge (Richard Croxford) in a run-down theatre that would be more profitable if he closed the doors and sold the land for apartments. Ignoring everyone around him, he takes little notice of his assistant Bobbie Cratchit (Molly Logan), optimistic nephew Fred (Darren Franklin), and is immune to the arguing ghosts of dead staff who haven’t quite gone away. But when his former co-owner Jacob Marley rattles his chains (the projected image of director Sean Kearns), Scrooge is given an opportunity to mend his ways.

Croxford’s Scrooge is selfish and mean, but never nasty. His interactions with the ghosts of Christmas part, present and yet to come gradually soften his approach, showing increasing understanding as his evening of education progresses. He cuts a much more redeemable figure than the normal miserly portrayal of Scrooge. And the lightness of touch is very appropriate for the family audience in the stalls who want to be entertained rather than frightened or depressed.

Dianna Ennis’ intricate set is full of doors, trap doors and interesting props. There’s always a lot going on and on top of the built-in lighting, Conan McIvor’s projections animate the set and props. Cartoon sound effects and visual kapows are wildly anachronistic for a turn of the last century theatre environs, but they definitely keep the show alive for the weeuns.

An other-worldly feel is quickly established with flickering paintings and the ghosts wandering around in their white attire. With the action largely taking place at the front of the stage, there’s an intimacy about the performance that helps connect this non-pantomime with its audience.

The script is peppered with theatrical in-jokes, and the inclusion of a deceased stage manager alongside the dead actors adds to the richness of observation as well as the comedic opportunity. I’m sure I wasn’t the only audience member thinking about Jonathan Bell during the discussion about needing a larger turkey!

On top of a somewhat magical soundscape, Garth McConaghie delivers a set of songs built around the musical talents of the cast. Jolene O’Hara’s voice is allowed to soar up to the rafters of The MAC as she brings the French ghost Scarlett to life with a heavy accent worthy of 'Allo 'Allo and a constant struggle to find the right English word to finish her sentences. Maeve Byrne milks every last quart out of the gagtastic Ghost of Christmas Present standing atop a moving staircase (a near-mandatory feature in all musicals). Jenny Coates hobbles (and is sometimes carried with a choreographed precision) around the stage as peppy Tiny Tim, while Maeve Smyth delivers the final punch as Scrooge comes face to face with his future. While featuring some familiar faces, the cast also includes a number of actors — some returning home — making their debut on a Belfast stage.

The fretful mention of reviewers (“fingers crossed for a good one”) in a song – not quite so cynical as Curtains! – turns out to be unnecessary worrying by the creatives. By the time Welcome to our World of Make Believe is reprised at the end, and the snow has fallen (always a beautiful moment in any theatre production and who could begrudge awarding an extra star for its inclusion), a rather satisfying tale has been well told. As director, Sean Kearns weaves together a tight script, a technically complex set and a well-balanced cast to create a fun, family-friendly and fast-paced show.

A Christmas Carol continues at The MAC until 5 January.


Alli said...

Who was the Choreographer?

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

According to The MAC website, Jennifer Rooney choreographed the show.