A Christmas Carol

Belvoir St Theatre, November 12

Ivan Donato, Ursula Yovich, Peter Carroll, Miranda Tapsell and Robert Menzies. Photo: Brett Boardman

Ivan Donato, Ursula Yovich, Peter Carroll, Miranda Tapsell and Robert Menzies. Photo: Brett Boardman

The magic begins as soon as you enter the theatre to find the seats dusted with (paper) snow. All over the theatre young and old excitedly lark around with it, dumping it on each other’s heads and tossing snowballs.

It’s the perfect start to Belvoir’s A Christmas Carol: a production so delightful and touching it would melt the hardest heart.

The costuming is contemporary (Mel Page) but the adaptation by director Anne-Louise Sarks and Benedict Hardie is a faithful telling of Charles Dickens’ timeless tale.

In this materialistic society of ours, the story of the miserly Scrooge resonates as powerfully as ever. Visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley, followed by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come, Scrooge learns to open his heart (and wallet).

The messages that although you can’t change your past, it’s never too late to change your ways, and that it’s more rewarding to give than to receive, are as beautiful and timely as ever.

The Belvoir stage has rarely looked larger than it does with Michael Hankin’s steeply raked black set. It’s a deceptively simple design with trap doors and a platform that rises and falls, brought to vivid life by Benjamin Cisterne’s dynamic lighting.

Steve Rodgers. Photo: Brett Boardman

Steve Rodgers. Photo: Brett Boardman

Sarks’ production doesn’t avoid the dark corners of the story but her production twinkles with joy and playfulness along with showers of snow and glitter, a human Christmas tree, and carol singers in wonderfully naff, knitted Christmas jumpers (think Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary).

Robert Menzies is perfect as the mean-spirited, grouchy Scrooge, who starts the evening growling “Bah, humbug!” to any mention of Christmas and gradually thaws until he is gamboling in the snow making angel wings.

The other seven actors take on a number of roles each and work together as a tight ensemble. Steve Rodgers brings a beatific smile and deep humanity to the role of Bob Cratchitt, matched by Ursula Yovich as his kind-hearted but tougher, spirited wife. Together they are incredibly touching.

Miranda Tapsell. Photo: Brett Boardman

Miranda Tapsell. Photo: Brett Boardman

Miranda Tapsell’s radiantly glowing face could light the darkest night as Tiny Tim. Wearing a gorgeous confection-of-a-costume made from gold tinsel, Kate Box brings a deliciously mischievous exuberance to the Ghost of Christmas Present. Ivan Donato is a more solemn presence as the Ghost of Christmas Past in a shiny suit, Peter Carroll is hilariously, maniacally unhinged as Jacob Marley, while Eden Falk is decency and kindness personified as Scrooge’s nephew.

Robert Menzies, Ursula Yovich, Steve Rodgers, Peter Carroll, Kate Box. Photo: Brett Boardman

Robert Menzies, Ursula Yovich, Steve Rodgers, Peter Carroll, Kate Box. Photo: Brett Boardman

With music by Stefan Gregory and movement by Scott Witt, the heartwarming, family-friendly production (which runs 75 minutes) moves you to laughter and tears, sending you home filled with the spirit of Christmas.

In fact, I felt so uplifted that the next morning I booked tickets to take my family to see it just before Christmas. A real gift of a show.

A Christmas Carol is at Belvoir St Theatre until December 24. Bookings: www.belvoir.com.au or 9699 3444

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on November 23

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The Hayloft Project Relocates to Sydney

Hayloft's Delectable Shelter. Photo: Pia Johnson

Hayloft’s Delectable Shelter. Photo: Pia Johnson

Founded in 2007 by Simon Stone, The Hayloft Project has quickly established itself as one of Melbourne’s most exciting theatre companies with critics hailing it as “a shining light in Melbourne theatre” and “the hottest property in Melbourne’s indie theatre scene.”

So news that the company is relocating to Sydney in 2014 under its recently appointed artistic director Benedict Hardie is very welcome – at least to theatre lovers at the Sydney end of the Hume Highway.

The move follows in the footsteps of Stone, who left Melbourne to become resident director at Belvoir in 2011, and Anne-Louise Sarks who took over from him as artistic director of Hayloft and has now replaced him at Belvoir as one of two new resident directors.

Hardie describes the relocation as “a very exciting challenge for the company next year, to see if we can’t work up some of our Hayloft magic (in Sydney).”

He says that there was a mix of reasons for the decision, some of them personal. “It’s a bit of a homecoming for me. I’m from the Blue Mountains, I went to school in Penrith so coming back is an exciting new challenge for me and an excuse to see my Mum a bit more.

“I think Sydney is looking like an exciting prospect to a lot of theatre artists,” adds Hardie. “The independent scene in Sydney in the last five or ten years has been expanding and acquiring much more legitimacy and interest from audiences and that means, I think, that the Sydney scene is poised only to expand and get more exciting in the next few years and it’s great to be a part of that.”

As to whether he hopes to keep working with actors already associated with the company he says: “We like to establish long-term collaborative relationships with actors and designers so those who can work in Sydney, then absolutely I would jump at the chance to have them working (with us) but that will be on a case by case basis.

“Many actors that we have worked with before have already relocated to Sydney, some of whom you see regularly on the Belvoir stages, so I am looking forward to reconnecting with some of those actors.”

Actors performing in Sydney who have worked with Hayloft include Gareth Davies, Ashley Zuckerman, Shelley Lauman and Eryn Jean Norvill.

Sydney has already seen several Hayloft productions including Stone’s memorable Thyestes, his version of Spring Awakening and The Only Child, which he adapted from Ibsen’s Little Eyolf.

This week the company will perform its post-apocalyptic, black comedy Delectable Shelter at the Seymour Centre as part of a national tour.

Written and directed by Hardie, the play (which premiered in 2011) is set in a bunker where the last five surviving humans plan a utopian future. The production features an eye-popping design, elaborate, five-part, Bach-style, a cappella arrangements of 1980s love songs (arranged by Benny Davis from The Axis of Awesome) and a range of comedy styles.

“My intention was to write a comedy where I could shine a harsh light on some of the prejudices and fears that people harbour but don’t talk about,” says Hardie. “Then it all became bonkers and I ended up creating this very elaborate play set in a bunker underground and spanning 350 years with choral arrangements of 1980s pop ballads.

“But it’s a lot of fun. Silliness and fun were the guiding principles for a lot of it. It leaves no comedy style unturned.”

Delectable Shelter, Seymour Centre, August 13 – 17

An edited version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on August 11