Starring Joseph Ziegler, John Jarvis. Written by Charles Dickens. Adapted and directed by Michael Shamata. Young Centre for the Performing Arts, to Dec. 29.
Dramatizations of Charles Dickens’s great ghost story A Christmas Carol are usually an occasion for elaborate sets and oodles of spooky effects. Soulpepper Theatre’s popular version makes do with little more than a ladder, a trap door, and some creative costumes. But while the show may be poor in spirits, it’s rich in humanity, thanks to a lively cast led by the masterful Joseph Ziegler as Ebenezer Scrooge.
The stone-hearted miser, converted overnight into a loving philanthropist, has become such a symbolic figure that we don’t usually consider him in simple human terms. Ziegler, who has played the role six times since Soulpepper first presented this adaptation in 2001, makes his Scrooge a real and pitiable man, a closed-minded, self-denying wretch who isn’t transformed so much as he is forced to open up and confront the past experiences that have scarred him. The visions he’s shown by his phantom visitors (all four played by John Jarvis) become a sort of supernatural therapy.
Michael Shamata’s adaptation sticks close to Dickens’s text and his direction—using an in-the-round staging—is swift and sure. The supporting ensemble, which includes a gaggle of young ’uns—is uniformly good. But if Ziegler has a rival for mastery, it’s Oliver Dennis as Scrooge’s abused clerk, Bob Cratchit, father of the lame Tiny Tim. It’s a role that can easily lapse into comic servility or soggy sentiment, but Dennis plays it with moving dignity and understatement. This Carol is fine family entertainment. Bring the kids. And bring tissues.