Thursday, January 1, 2015

Theatre: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Phil Zachariah
Victoria Hall, Fremantle
December 22 – 23, 2014

Let me spend 32 words, and take a precious moment of your Christmas Eve, to look into a London grocer with Ebenezer Scrooge on this very day, 171 years ago:
“There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by…”
Say what you like about him, Charles Dickens could write like his infernal namesake. Perhaps only two writers before him, and only one since, match his mastery of English and the emotional and polemic potential it harbours.
So the Melbourne actor Phil Zachariah performs us all a service with his long-running one-man-show Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, purportedly a reading by the author of his glorious Yuletide parable.

There is some truth in Zachariah’s conceit; Dickens toured readings of his work ceaselessly, and many of his performances would have been in venues like Fremantle’s Victoria Hall.
Zachariah is a mobile, expressive actor who looks exactly as you imagined Dickens would have. Sometimes his performance is a little histrionic for his idea and tests the old hall’s acoustic clarity, but these are small complaints. For the most part, his characterisations draw successfully from familiar popular culture; Bob Cratchit and his family blissfully gathered around their humble Christmas feast – cheap goose, not impossibly expensive turkey – think and sound so much like the Kerrigans that we could be dreaming.
Zachariah is also a skilful mime, and if, occasionally, he lets his talent for it run away with him, he’s much more often in control; Scrooge in his chair, represented only by a crouching Zachariah’s still hands on its arms, is an economical work of art.
The admirable Rob Kay and eight singers serenaded the audience with carols in the foyer, and Zachariah’s performances raised funds for the Evie Charitable Association for young people with cancer. A Christmas Carol, full of the secular spirit of Christmas – generosity, compassion, warmth and love, should be compulsory reading for every incoming Minister for Social Services.
And, as Tiny Tim says: “"God bless Us, Every One!"

This review appeared in The West Australian 24.12.14 

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