Scrooge’s Christmas

The Perennial Tale of Greed Redeemed, Brought to Life Again at the International Theatre

Marilyn Close and Jack Babb from this year's production of CHarles Dickens' Christmas Carol | Photo: Rolf Bock

Marilyn Close and Jack Babb from this year's production of CHarles Dickens' Christmas Carol | Photo: Rolf Bock

Marilyn Close and Jack Babb from this year’s production of CHarles Dickens’ Christmas Carol | Photo: Rolf Bock

On an unusually warm November evening, walking along Porzellangasse toward the International Theater, the holiday season felt very far away. But trotting down the steep cellar stairs to the Fundus theater space, Christmas was suddenly in the air. Between the greens and ornaments, sprigs and mistletoe and the scent of Punch and Glühwein, the crowd was already in the mood, gulping down one cup of Glühwein at the small bar chattering happily away waiting for this year’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol to begin. As they moved into the theater, a large red and white poster became visible advertising tonight’s production, re-named Scrooge. The first call, a few more shhs in the audience – then three shimmering voices emerged out of nowhere, singing  in resonant harmony, filling the space with sound.

In Vienna Scrooge’s Christmas Carol and the International Theatre are inseparable. At least it has for the past 20 years, telling the story of grouchy, greedy Ebenezer Scrooge played by Jack Babb whose rigid life is changed when the ghost of his partner Marley appears, wearing “the chains forged in life” and warning Scrooge that he would be visited by three spirits the following nights. While the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future take Scrooge on a journey through his life, he learns more than one lesson about what really matters. Finally his approaching death seems inevitable…  But no – this is Dickens’ and a story of redemption. Scrooge is given a second chance.

It was refreshing to see Babb as Scrooge together with Eric Lomas for whom it was the first time in the role of the narrator. Their improvisations and ease made the potentially melancholy Christmas Carol lighthearted and comical.  The simplicity of the sets in the cozy small arena formed by the surrounding rows of chairs was perfect for Babb and Lomas flirtation with the audience. With the words “Scrooge can’t stand to hear the bells ring. He gets very angry,” they said, asking the audience to switch off their phones. “So now you’ve been duly warned; let’s begin.”

For Lomas, who had a lot of text to learn, the improvisational parts came easily and gave the play an easygoing, cheery residual flavour which contrasted but did not conflict with the more serious taste of the Christmas Carol.

Lomas not only premiered in his role as the narrator but also accompanied Scrooge as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Christmas Future. An unusual interpretation of Dicken’s version for Lomas did not distinguish between but rather summarized those characters into one more-or-less consistent narrator.

On the other hand, there was an effort to keep other elements, such as language, costumes and gestures in the traditional style. Lomas commented afterwards that he sometimes had to remind himself to only use language appropriate to the time.

“Words like ‘OK’ and ‘Yeah’ are taboo,” he said. “Instead we have to say ‘Alright,’ and be very careful – especially when it comes to the improvisational parts – when mobile phones become ringing boxes.”

In the small cellar with limited space and limited means, the theatre staff had to come up with creative solutions – and they found lots of them.

In scenes such as the Christmas party at Scrooge’s nephew’s house, the actors create a realistic and convincing atmosphere – a warm feeling of lightness and laughter spreads through the room. The Spirit of Christmas Present asks Scrooge to go on; he sighs, “Do we really have to go?” – the audience sighs too.

While Scrooge shuffles along in his bed robe, mumbling grumpily, his nephew, played by Michael Nield, swoops around the stage circling in the middle, energetic, overly eager, embracing the spirit of Christmas embodied perfectly by doyenne actress Marilyn Close. She waltzes with Scrooge from one side to the other, her motherly figure covered by a red, green gown with golden embroidery, afloat and swinging with every step she takes.

Another example of a great match were Mr. And Mrs.Cratchit (Kieran Brown, Laura Mitchell) celebrating Christmas with their family. When they moan together for their absent son Tiny Tim, the lights go out; keeping each other warm in front of the small, glowing stove the couple presents a picture of taking harmony.

Marianna de Fazio as Tiny Tim, with her grace, slim figure, appears to be the smallest one of the Cratchits in spite of her height. Those who have seen her before will not be disappointed; as usually she strives to live the character. With each limping step she takes, each childish smile put on her face, Tiny Tim comes to life. Gestures, voice and expressions give a coherent image of a protected, unique child that deals easily with being sick and would love to embrace the world he will have to leave so soon – and breaks the audiences’ hearts. Deeply moved by all that he has seen, Scrooge promises “to honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”

Remarkably through it all is the ease with which the actors sail through both cheery and thoughtful parts, absorbed in Dickens’ famous tale, but always keeping an eye on the audience.

“In the next couple of days we see what the German audiences are like,” Lomar said for the International theatre team was about to start their one week Christmas Carol tour in Germany.

For reviews of other performances of A Christmas Carol, see:
The Immortal ‘Carol’” in TVR Dec/Jan 2008/09
A Christmas Carol: Savoring Scrooge” in TVR Dec/Jan 2007/08

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