‘Tis the season for adaptations of Charles Dickens’ immortal A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and if you think you’ve seen it all before, just wait until you see Patrick Barlow’s new adaptation, makings its world premiere at The Delaware Theater Company through December 30.
This version of the classic Christmas ghost story is traditional in many way: it’s set in London in 1842, Scrooge is the same aging miser we all know and love, there’s Cratchit and Frederick, the Ghosts of Christmas and Tiny Tim. What makes the Barlow adaptation under the direction of Joe Calarco stand out is the execution, the multiply talented cast of five, and the amazing sets by Brian Prather.
As Scrooge, stage and screen actor Andrew Long is as malevolently misanthropic as ever, with flashes of the good-hearted, even playful man he’ll become occasionally showing through as he grudgingly travels through time with the three Christmas spirits (Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come). The rest of the tiny cast — listed as Actors One through Four — play all of the more than 20 other characters, and also provide the music on stage. Jessie Shelton plays the violin, Tina Stafford plays accordion, and Steve Pacek plays the flugelhorn and percussion; Mark Light-Orr, when not playing Bob Cratchit and a particularly creepy ghost of Jacob Marley, among others, joins them in song throughout. The actors weave in and out of character so seamlessly it’s easy to forget that you’ve just seen the same actor as another character just seconds before. It’s a testament to their skill, and to Anne Kennedy’s adaptable costume designs.
Once Scrooge’s character has been established and he starts his supernatural journey, the play becomes a visually magical display of movement — the actors, the swirling sets, and the stage itself, along with the fantastical lighting design by Chris Lee. That a relatively small stage and so few actors can convey the story in such a big, stunning way is impressive. Still, it never puts visuals or “special effects” over the story, which comes across in an exceptionally moving way, while keeping it light, often humorous, and festive. True to its source (a ghost story, after all), it has its frightening moments as well, beautifully done. And then there are the small touches that set this adaptation apart from Dickens’ original: the occasional anachronistic phrasing, fourth wall disintegration, and a dash of puppetry.
No matter how many times you’ve experienced A CHRISTMAS CAROL this version is not one to miss.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
by Charles Dickens
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Directed by Joe Calarco
Scenic Design by Brian Prather
Musical Supervision by Mary-Mitchell Campbell
December 5 – 30, 2012
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE 19801