Ahh, Charles Dickens! Where would the English literary world be without him? And what would Christmas be like for that matter?
The tale of cantankerous Ebenezer Scrooge and sweet, crippled Tiny Tim has warmed hearts around the world at Christmas time for almost two centuries, and will likely continue to do so for many years to come.
The current season’s performance of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, based upon Charles Dickens Performs A Christmas Carol by James Adler, is a one man show by the incredibly talented Phil Zachariah. Zachariah plays Dickens, Scrooge, Tiny Tim, the three spirits of Christmas and all the other characters of the tale, framing it all as if Dickens himself is reading the story.
In fact, the performance starts off as little more than a reading of the tale with some ambient lighting, before quickly becoming a play in its own right. Like descending slowly into the pages of the novel itself, Zachariah hunches up, puts on a squawky voice and becomes Ebenezer Scrooge. The whole transition between narrative frames is done quite extraordinarily, with hardly a seam to be seen.
Zachariah is a master when it comes to putting on voices and, even though they are mostly all cliché lower class Londoner accents from the 19th century in this play, he manages to fit in enough subtle inflections and differences to make them all stand out as separate characters. Zachariah easily conquers the roles of the whole Christmas Carol cast, bringing Dickens’ world to life with little more than his voice and posture.
Dickens’ writing has always been touted as some of the best the 19th century had to offer (and, I have to confess, some of my personal favourite writing), and this play really highlights it. Zachariah’s performance of Dickens vivid and descriptive works paint wonderful pictures in your mind. For example, when Scrooge goes down the street with the Ghost of Christmas Present and sees all the food in the stores, I could almost smell the cooking. Zachariah’s incredible energy and passion for the work makes it all the more lively and special.
Unfortunately, I did overhear a few of the audience members complaining of boredom simply because they had heard the story before. Humbug to that, I say! I know the story by heart and I still found the play enjoyable simply for Zachariah’s performance. I did feel that some parts of the play were hard to follow because of the speed of delivery and thick accents, but even then the whole thing was a boisterous riot from start to finish. How could you not be engaged?
Despite a few stumbles here and there, Zachariah has given one of the best one-man performances I’ve seen. The role fits him like a glove.
Reviewed by James Rudd
Venue: Bakehouse Theatre, 255 Angas St, Adelaide
Season: 17-18 December 2014
Duration: 2 hours with interval