From the opening burst of light and blast of music, you sense you’re about to be dramatically transported far away to another place and time long, long ago.
So, let go of your head, take hold of your heart and let your imagination take wing.
Not that this takes much effort.
For this immensely innovative performance of Dickens classic tale, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ at Belfast’s The MAC theatre, simply bubbles over with fantasy, thanks to a skilful rewrite by distinguished local writer and actor, Tara Lynne O’Neill (Derry Girls) and Simon Magill, creative director of the MAC, and inspired directing by local actor Sean Kearns.
Welcome to the ‘Marley & Scrooge’ Theatre, described by one actor as “the leaning tower of dreams.”
The menu of delights include –
- catchy, upbeat music and lyrics by composer and sound designer, Garth McConaghie;
- exciting special effects including portraits that move and speak, simulated electricity flashes and the remarkable appearance of Jacob Marley;
- exciting choreography by Jennifer Rooney, including a ‘Mary Poppins and Bert’ style dance with black umbrellas, the carrying of Tiny Tim high on sturdy shoulders across stage, and stomp-marching to the theme word ’Think;’
- humor aplenty, including outright farce and quips such as “why are we freezing, we’re ghosts” to an actress with a woefully bad memory for lines who calls Ebenezer (Scrooge), Sneezer (though it’s the strangest resemblance to a reindeer I’ve ever seen). As for ‘mince spy’ and what the landlord said to Shakespeare when he threw him out of the pub (don’t worry, you’ll get them on the night);
- vivid stage setting created by set and costume designer, Dianna Ennis – a two-level back stage complete with rack of costumes and miscellaneous props including a full-length vanity mirror. Even the ingenious use of a swinging exit-entrance door.
Complementary ‘ghostly’ characters are created brilliantly by the actors and actresses. As fellow theatre writer, Jane Coyle put it in her review, “the ghostly characters – in powdered wigs and doublet and hose – morph dizzyingly between Restoration comedy, Shakespearean tragedy and Parisian cabaret.”
So well-cast are the actors, it’s hard to pick out the best of them. Suffice it to say, Richard Croxford plays the miserable old codger, Scrooge, to a tee. As well as the most generous of resurrected people after the enlightening visitation by the ghosts. Versatility at its best, grave and humorous by degrees.
Jenny Coates who plays Tiny Tim Cratchit, as well as the roles of Boy Scrooge, Young Scrooge and Future Ghost, doesn’t just limp along, she leaps into the role with gusto.
Local girl Jolene O’Hara’s singing has got to be heard to be believed, possessing as she does an astonishing set of lungs, especially considering her petite stature. The friendly woman also plays Scarlet, Christmas Past and Tilly. Meeting her with other cast members after the show as they mingled merrily with audience members, I told her she had lungs like a blacksmith’s bellows (I meant to say she sings like an angel but it didn’t come out quite right). She seemed pleased with my comment and didn’t ask if I needed my horse shoed.
And you’ll bask in the broad, brash Belfast accent of Maeve Byrne who plays the roles of Nell, Belle, the Ghost of Christmas Present and young Marley. Maeve steals scenes with boldness and bravado, a pure delight to listen to. Darren Franklin from Turf Lodge area of Belfast, who informed me he studied with Jenny Coates at The Rainbow Factory School of Performing Arts, also stars in multi-roles as Arthur, Fred and the older Scrooge.
It would also be amiss not to mention Molly Logan who plays so well Bobbie Cratchit, Hetty and Mrs. Fezziwig and Maeve Smyth who was superb as Sam, Fran, Mr Fezziwig, the Ghost of Christmas Future and Tara.
Interestingly, director Kearns, who played the shoemaker in last year’s MAC Christmas show, plays Jacob Marley in a special projection.
Other members of the production team deserving credit include lighting designer, Paul Keoghan and video designer, Conan McIvor. Stage managers were Siobhan Barbour, Natalie Murphy and Emma McConville.
In one scene, miserable old Scrooge, a theatre manager, complains, “Stories don’t put food on the table.” Don’t believe it. As one character retorts, “Man has been doing it since we came out of the swamps.” Luckily for us, so does a combined team of talented people both on and off stage at the MAC.
‘A Christmas Carol’ at the MAC runs until 5 January next year. Go see it. You’re sure to find “the spirit of togetherness.”
P.S. Enjoy the falling snow. It’ll delight you.
P.P.S. The MAC even sells delicious ice-cream – inside the theatre. Just like my mother, now 92, did 75 years ago at vintage Belfast theaters.