by Lynn on December 15, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

A Christmas Carol

At Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Adapted by Justin Haigh from the novel by Charles Dickens

Directed by Sarah Thorpe

Costumes and props by Chelsea Driver

Musical Director, Pratik Gandhi

Cast: Jim Armstrong

Makenna Beatty

Christopher Fowler

John Fray

Tamara Freeman

Thomas Gough

Christopher Lucas

Margo MacDonald

Tiffany Martin

William Matthews

Amy Marie Wallace

Kholby Wardell

A wonderful story done beautifully.

We live in a city big enough to support various productions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but one of the best productions on offer is the one playing at the historic Campbell House Museum until Dec. 22.

Campbell House dates back to the time of Charles Dickens’ and to the world of money-hungry Ebenezer Scrooge and so its old furnishings, creaky floors, and frayed carpet on the stairs lend atmosphere and a presence to the story.

It’s the Christmas Eve in London, England all those years ago that Ebenezer Scrooge learned the truth about the spirit of Christmas. Before that compassion, mercy and kind-heartedness had no place in his life. There was only money. Then he was visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley who lived as Scrooge had lived until he saw the error of his ways in death. He was now going to try and show Scrooge a better way to live. Three spirits of Christmas: past, present and future) would visit him with truths and visions. Would it change him? If you don’t know I assume you’ve been in a cave for about 175 years.

Writer Justin Haigh has written an eloquent adaptation of the Dickens classic, tightening the story in places, condensing scenes without harm to the tone and atmosphere of the piece.

Director Sarah Thorpe is such a sensitive, creative director who uses the gift of setting the story in Campbell House Museum to its full advantage. The audience gathers in a room in the basement of the building, just opposite from the kitchen. A man in clothes of Dickens’s time: pants, shirt, vest and fingerless gloves works diligently at a desk, writing in a book. He is cold and constantly rubs his arms and hands to keep warm. He puts on his scarf and then his coat to continue. He is Bob Cratchit (played beautifully by William Matthews as a well-eaning, anxious, kind man).

Ebenezer Scrooge (Thomas Gough) arrives quickly and smartly. He is dressed in a well tailored black frock coat and black pants. He too begins writing at his desk but keeps eyeing Cratchit who would love to add another piece of coal to the fire. If Scrooge is anything, he is irritable. He doesn’t express joy, or happiness or kindness. He is grumpy to all and begrudges people celebrating Christmas. But he gets his awakening when Jacob Marley (Christopher Fowler) arrives and tells him what to expect. Fowler arrives slowly from the back of the room and in a low, soft voice gives us the details. His face is haunted white.  He walks and moves slowly. He wears a long chain looped around his neck. This is his penance to bear the chains until he can be set free. He is our guide and leads us from room to room at a leisurely pace. With an arm half bent up, the back of his hand facing us, his eyes widen as he looks at us and then flutters three fingers in the air ever so subtly indicating us to follow him.

Up and down the stairs, into rooms that are well appointed or scarcely furnished but with atmosphere. Director Sarah Thorpe has set each scene in each room with economy, theatricality and clarity. We are never confused as to where we are and how important the scene is and what is conveying.

It is heart-breaking to see what Scrooge gave up for loving money full time. But Thomas Gough as Scrooge knows too what he gave up. He goes from an irritated, irascible man ready to foreclose on people’s houses over Christmas with nary a backward look,  to a soften man, tempered and able to find joy again, when he comes face to face with his fate.

The whole cast is exemplary as is the production. If you have never been in the Campbell House Museum, this is a perfect chance to put that right. It’s magical and so is this production.

The Three Ships Collective with support from Soup Can Theatre, presents:

Opened:  Dec. 13, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 22, 2018.

Running Time: 75-90 minutes


A Very Leila Christmas

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace.

Created and performed by Leila

Directed by Leila’s Mother

Original set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Sound by Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski

Leila is a force to be reckoned with. She is a Persian performer, singer, comedienne, actress, self-promoter and gracious host. This is her first Christmas and she has thrown her heart and soul into celebrating it, that is when she is not working at the Call Centre for Rogers.

She wanted to impress a co-worker and so invited them all to her small basement apartment she shares with her parents. She took the Rogers job to make extra money. What she lacks in resources she makes up for with garish taste. She is ably helped by designer Joe Pagnan who knows how to make ‘garish’ into a colourful room with style.

There is a big tree with some lights but not in any way decorated. She uses her beguiling charm to encourage us to take ornaments from various boxes that are passed along the rows of the audience. Leila personally hands me a paper menorah with candles on a backdrop in the shape of a Star of David and the words “Happy Hanukkah” on it. Leila is an equal opportunity celebrant of any holiday. We were then expected to go to the tree and place our decoration on it.

Leila’s ensembles are always colourful and eye-popping. This one is red. The pants are form-fitting and have sparkly bits on it. She wears a Christmas sweater of sorts and a long flowing head covering that is wrapped around her neck loosely just under her full beard (!!). It’s been said that actor Izad Etimadi is her alter-ego but Leila’s personality is so big that there is only room for Leila to be in our presence and not she and Izad.

As this is Leila’s first Christmas she is a bit hazy on what happens. She does believe there is a Santa Claus because she has seen him twice, once at a parade in his name. He’s got a parade named after him! They don’t do that if the guy doesn’t exist.

And she knows he brings presents if you are nice. Leila created her own “12 Days of Christmas” of what she wanted, starting with a Gucci bag and escalating from there. I won’t tell you what else because that would spoil the wit and humour of it.

Leila engages the audience with good humour, a wicked wit, charm and generosity. She flirts with the men in the audience and not in a pushy way. She even gets a bit political—how can she not, she’s Persian and that carries with it heavy politics. But Leila knows how to mention things that bother her without belaboring the subject or hectoring the audience. Perhaps it’s the bribe of little bags of cookies she gave all of us.

A Very Leila Christmas is a wonderful romp of entertainment by a most charming, extroverted dazzler named Leila. The run is very short (only three days). It ends on Sunday Dec. 16, 2018. Too bad her alter-ego Izad Etimadi can’t get in the room to see it too (her personality is too big for both of them)—he would love it.

Theatre Passe Muraille and Bad Girl Leila Present:

Began. Dec. 14, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 16, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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