Delaware Theatre Company’s (DTC) gift to patrons for the holiday season is a unique adaptation of A Christmas Carol, developed from the original Dickens by Patrick Barlow.
Written in 1842, a time of many societal changes in Britain, A Christmas Carol was serialized in the newspaper; readers got the story in sections over a period of a few months. Charles Dickens was a champion of the underdog and used his fiction to point out the many inequities in British society. The author drew on his own childhood hardships for many of his stories; young Ebenezer’s troubles are very similar to those of Dickens’s own youth, and he had a sister named Fan (Scrooge’s sister in the novella) who died young. She was the mother of a son with a disability—the inspiration for Tiny Tim.
An all-women cast
Barlow’s theatrical version had a solid world premiere in 2012, and DTC staged it so successfully in 2016 that the company revisits it this year. This time around, an all-women cast brings a wealth of talent to the stage (the script calls for three men and two women). Mary Martello anchors things as Ebenezer Scrooge, the quintessential curmudgeon. Martello relishes the character’s meanest moments (“Are there no prisons?”), yet deftly calibrates Scrooge’s redemption.
The other four actors magnificently embody everyone else peopling Dickens’s tale. Charlotte Northeast loses herself in the role of Bob Cratchit very effectively, and creates equally distinct characterizations for several other roles. Michaela Schuchman is a delight as most of the female characters—from the loopy Mrs. Lack (who desperately needs money) to the lovely Isabella (Scrooge’s love). Liz Filios brings not only great versatility to her many roles, but she displays her musicianship as well—accompanying Schuchman on classic English carols. Rounding out this ensemble is Sarah Gliko, another performer able to morph into a series of distinct denizens of Victorian London. This quintet is so adept, the viewer forgets their gender and totally buys into each personification.
A darker vision
Director Brendon Fox employs some highly effective stagecraft while keeping things minimalistic. A few set pieces and architectural elements are moved on and off for each locale. The pace is a little slow at the start, but things pick up as the story progresses. In keeping with the minimalism, Lex Liang provides an assortment of accessories like capes and hats to aid each character transformation. Alexandra Docherty’s lighting nicely enhances the mood, as does the soundscape by Victoria DeTorio.
The 2016 production I saw opted for madcap humor—almost veering into panto territory. Fox has chosen to go much darker. I know the tale is a ghost story, but it was an unexpected mental U-turn for me. When act 1 ended very abruptly and the house lights came up, the audience didn’t know how to react for several minutes. I did chat with a few folks around me once we all regrouped, and they had high praise for the performances. There were a few children there, but I didn’t get a chance to chat with any to gauge their take. Personally, I would recommend bringing kids age 10 and up—younger ones might be a little frightened.
A Christmas Carol has remained a holiday staple because it is ultimately a tale of hope, of redemption. Good triumphs over evil, so to speak. These are things we all need to see—especially in times of tremendous divides between the haves and the have-nots. And, sadly, current events parallel the Dickens era in a number of ways. It is one of the beauties of great literature and drama—that a story can continue to be relevant for almost 200 years.
What, When, Where
A Christmas Carol. Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novella by Charles Dickens. Directed by Brendan Fox. Through December 29, 2019 at Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water Street, Wilmington, DE. (302) 594-1100 or delawaretheatre.org.
Delaware Theatre Company is a wheelchair-accessible venue, and offers assisted listening devices. There will be a sensory-friendly relaxed performance of A Christmas Carol on December 22 at 6pm.