Royal Shakespeare Company A CHRISTMAS CAROL at The Players Club

by Robert Beizer

The Players Club of Swarthmore is presenting the Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” as their 100th Anniversary holiday offering.
This version, with an adaptation by John Mortimer (Rumpole of The Bailey), was originally produced in London, to great acclaim, by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1994.

Ebenezer Scrooge (George Mulford of Swarthmore) enjoys his hopeful new future with his new friend, Tiny Tim (Marielle Buxbaum of Lansdowne) in Players Club of Swarthmore's A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Our local production is directed by the Players Club newcomer Jennifer Wolfe and stars regulars, George Mulford as Ebenezer Scrooge, and Jim Carroll as the Ghost of Jacob Marley and the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come. Newer PCS member Colleen S. Sheldon portrays the Ghost of Christmas Past; Michael Murphy, the Ghost of Christmas Present; Edward Emmi appears as Nephew Fred and Jillian Haas as his wife Belle. Timothy P. Oskin is Bob Cratchit with Jillian A Cassidy portraying his wife, and Marielle Buxbaum appearing as Tiny Tim.

The production uses an open stage with set pieces changed by the cast as the play progresses. Actors utilize the stage proper and the audience area with ramps providing access from one to the other to tell the story of Scrooge, Marley, The Cratchits and the good old city.

While at times enjoyable, in general I did not feel that this production rose to the usual high Players Club standards.

Half the cast is made up of young and for the most part inexperienced performers. This lack of training often made it difficult to hear and see them. Often I could not identify who was speaking either because there was no light on them (a lighting design problem?), or because the actor could not find their light which was often right next to them (a technical actors problem?).
The set seemed crude with no overall continuity of design. For example, signs were lettered in Gothic style on one “store” and in plain fonts on others. The Cratchit house had bright walls in what should have been (to my mind) a darker hovel of a place. The costumes didn’t always seem period correct and some characters would complain about the cold while wearing sleeveless evening dresses.

Some of the effects, like the door knocker, were not inspired and didn’t seem to work well. The night I saw the play, a drop started to fly in while set pieces were in the way. It was a good thing the drop was made of soft muslin. Worse, it gave the evening the feeling of a dress rehearsal or preview performance.

I found many of the characterizations so totally unrealistic, as to suspect some of the cast were trying to mimic a 19th century acting style. Although the story is fantastical the acting need not be. These are still real people. If the people and the spirits aren’t different we lose the latter’s magic. However some of the spirits took even their calling a bit too far.

And too often action would stop either because actors would not overlap dialog or, because a song or carol was to be sung. Neither was fully integrated into the production.

I applaud The Players Club for taking on this project; I just expected more from it.

by Charles Dickens
Adapted by John Mortimer
Directed by Jennifer Wolfe
November 26 – December 19, 2010
The Players Club
614 Fairview Road
Swarthmore PA 19081
610 328-4227

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