It’s not just anyone who can exclaim “Humbug!” with complete sincerity.
The Chemainus Theatre Festival has been lucky enough to find one such outstanding actor to fill the title role of Scrooge in their retelling of a Christmas classic in their newest production A Tiny Christmas Carol.
Louise Phillips is an absolute delight as this iconic character. She is by turns amusing and sincere, fearful and giddy, each emotion played with gusto that carries the audience along as the four ghosts visit and transform the penny-pinching, miserly Scrooge from the most hated woman in town, to the most well-loved. Scrooge, of course, is the original Grinch, and Phillips embraces every moment on stage to the utmost. It is a remarkable performance.
While the lead has been filled non-traditionally by a woman, the actual script is very faithful to the original story. In fact, it retains much of the delightful language that helped make Charles Dickens one of the greatest authors of all time. Who else would compare the appearance of a spirit to indigestion? This adaptation by Jessica Schacht and Mark DuMez has Scrooge observe that darkness is cheap — just how she likes it — when she fails to light a match. It has retained both the charm and the deeper meaning of the original, teaching the audience along with Scrooge that life is about more than just money, and how you treat people, especially those less fortunate, is important. It’s a lesson just as relevant in 2022 as it was back in Dickensian England.
The rest of the cast play a variety of roles, as the struggle of the last few years during the pandemic has necessitated a small cast. But it does not detract from the show in the least. Praise for this success belongs both to the actors and to director Ming Hudson.
Hudson has cleverly filled in some of the gaps with surprisingly effective props — one a puppet, and the other a giant menacing hand.
Emma Slipp gives another standout performance (she was also excellent in Chemainus Theatre’s 2017 Silent Sky, Outside Mullingar, Hilda’s Yard and Singing in the Rain). She swings effortlessly from comedy to drama, bringing each character to life with an energy and conviction that shines from the stage.
Rounding out the able cast is Jay Clift, Yasmin D’Oshun and Stephen Thakkar.
And of course, as with any ghost story, lighting is key. Lighting designer Celeste English has made good use of shadows and spotlights to create menace.
The clever set also deserves a mention. Designer James O’Leary immediately places us in a cold, angular and bleak setting, modular pieces that look like stone replicas of Scrooge’s ledgers making up the surroundings of Scrooge’s life, mirroring her internal life. There is no comfort, colour or warmth here. Only the ledgers looming around the stage and hemming her in on all sides, ledgers that record an accounting of Scrooge’s life that will leave her forever dragging chains like her late partner Marley if she doesn’t change. That jagged pieces of them sit on the stage throughout like gravestones is certainly no mistake.
In the end, this Tiny Christmas Carol has a big heart.
A Tiny Christmas Carol is on stage until Dec. 23. Get tickets by going to chemainustheatre.ca or call 250-246-9820 or 1-800-565-7738.