REVIEW: Steampunk Christmas Carol brings the holiday spirit

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A Christmas Carol, Steampunk Style
Written by Charles Dickens, Adapted by Jared McDaris
Produced by Nelson Repertory Theatre
Directed by Alli Campbell
Theatre Royal Nelson 15-24 November 2018

Reviewed by Laura Irish

It was no typical night at the Historic Theatre Royal. Upon entering the building, we were greeted by several audience and cast members adorned with Victorian style dress accented with industrial metal work and clockwork features. The tone was set for the evening to be out of the ordinary.

It’s no secret that I am a loudly proclaimed Christmas-phile, loving everything to do with the wintery holiday season I grew up in the northern hemisphere, so Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol presented in mid-November? Yes, please. A family-friendly steampunk twist? Why not! The staging was simple with a beautiful clock background and various areas around the stage signifying the victorian/steampunk collaboration.

This production by Nelson Repertory Theatre is one of the better performances I’ve seen from them in close to a decade. They are at the forefront of community theatre in Nelson currently, giving people in the community the opportunity to exercise their creative sides for fun.

This particular script suited itself to melodramatic acting and larger than life characters. And this cast delivered all of that. Most importantly, their audience was engaged because it was the apparent that the cast itself was having a wonderful time onstage due to the commitment from their large ensemble cast.

There were moments that were truly delightful. Specifically, the forced maniacal laughter of Marley (Gordon Taylor) tickled the audience. The narrating robot, X2 (Nick Gastrell) and his sidekick The Engineer (Deanne Kilpatrick) were suitably cheeky and it was fun to see the mix of original text and steampunk-inspired banter come through their dialogue and throughout the rest of the show, usually with the word “robot” peppered in here and there. And the delightful “wealthy ladies” (Elizabeth Williams, Judene Edgar, Penny Taylor, Sheree Phyn) were a highlight, as was the amazingly beautiful mask of the somber and foreboding Ghost of Christmas Future (Roger Dunham).

Lester Oakes played a superbly salty Scrooge, bringing in all the classic bitterness of the character that we’re used to, which was, frankly, a relief, given all the other changes to the original text. I would have loved to see Scrooge stand strong and still in his power a bit more during the beginning of the play; it seemed some staging or direction wasn’t clear as he paced back and forth in a heated scene with the meek Barb Ratchet (Seona Christie) and nephew, the bubbly Fred (Matthew Edgar). Stillness often gives a character more status and menace, which decreased slightly as he scrambled back and forth in that early scene.

Nevertheless, the intention was there and Oakes is very well suited to the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Near the conclusion of the story, the twinkle in Oakes’ eye seemed so genuine as the change in Scrooge occured, he almost reminded me of a young Father Christmas. The combination of a changed Scrooge and the adorable innocence of Tinker Tim (Anzac Jamieson) was touching.

With all the positives, there are a few small things could be improved over this production’s season, such as projection of voices. There were a few characters who weren’t quite loud enough in that space, but overall we could hear. The production team could also have a look at its lighting plot as the centre spotlight was used very often but cast members were frequently just out of the light. The synchronised singing of the cast in different parts of the show could also use a look in, as it sometimes didn’t feel as if it fit the moment and we were left wondering why there were no harmonies, and it was unclear as if they were singing in character or as actors or if the audience was meant to be singing along too.

My main critiques, though, would definitely be of the script, in which this cast handled the changes to the original story with humour and commitment; I just think Jared McDaris got a bit carried away at times in his quirky adaptation.

And this is probably the first review I’ve ever written in which my strongest plea is a critique for the audience. There were three moments in the production of opening night in which mobile phones went off. Audiences, you have two jobs. Show up on time and turn off your phones.There’s nothing that disturbs a show more.

Overall, this was a very delightful, family-friendly, engaging way to kick off the festive season. And they sang my favourite Christmas carol, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, which took me back to fond childhood memories. I definitely recommend heading out to this production of A Christmas Carol, decked out in your steampunk best. Who knows… you could win the interval costume contest. And as Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Carol: “ There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

So, help Nelson Rep spread some much needed Christmas cheer.