It may seem like there are a hundred A CHRISTMAS CAROLs out there to choose from but once in a while there will be a different take on the classic. A number of years back, Charles Dickens’ great-great nephew read the story for audiences here in Boston, just as his famous great uncle had over a century before. Now you have a solo performance by Neil McGarry (for Bay Colony Shakespeare through Dec. 23rd) to add to the list of extraordinary productions of the beloved ghost story.
Lest you think McGarry recites the text, I’m happy to tell you it’s fully produced, dancing and all. The trick is that McGarry portrays everyone, even so far as helping himself on with a coat as someone else! He slips seamlessly from one character to the next—and you are not confused even for a moment in his remarkable tour de force.
If anything, Dickens’ gorgeous language is enhanced because of the singular focus. In director Ross MacDonald’s distinct version of the tale, your attention is drawn to Dickens’ rich imagery, like his hot, “singing pudding” or his stirring cry for justice for those who die alone, “unwashed, unwept and uncared for.” (You lose some of those descriptive gems in large scale production.)
McGarry’s “jolly giant” of a Ghost of Christmas Present seems to fill the stage with his reverberating laugh. His Fezziwig whirls about the auditorium in joyous spasms of dance and his Scrooge transforms himself with happy abandon.
Sound effects play a large role in the Bay Colony production. Erica Simpson supplies the bells, gongs and eerie echoes which enlarge a scene, stirring our imagination to conjure a “glimpse of the invisible world.” Indeed, I saw the ghosts heavy with chains, hovering about Marley in my mind’s eye…and I saw the “ubiquitous young Crachits” running under foot as McGarry held Tiny Tim on his shoulder.
McGarry and MacDonald have achieved a magical alchemy which absorbs and involves the audience and holds them spellbound. Small children sat transfixed without moving. Large children, otherwise known as adults, smiled with grins to rival Mrs. Fezziwig’s “vast substantial smile.” In short, you must see their CHRISTMAS CAROL, as the Ghost of Christmas Past informs Scrooge, for your very welfare!