A CHRISTMAS CAROL – the Musical

Date 19th November 2021
Society Belfast Operatic Company
Venue Grand Opera House, Belfast
Type of Production Musical
Director Wilfie Pyper
Musical Director Adam Darcy
Choreographer Timothy Bell

Report

Author: Sheelagh Hobart

After the drought of shows to review since the beginning of the Corona Virus Pandemic, it was exciting to return to live theatre in the beautifully refurbished Grand Opera House - to the seasonally timed “A Christmas Carol - the musical” by Belfast Operatic Company. There are many different musical adaptations of the famous Dickens’ story – this one was adapted for the stage in 1994 by composer Alan Menken with lyricist Lynn Ahrens and was previously successfully performed by BOC in 2013.

It’s interesting to see how often large sets are now replaced by cyc projections with moving components such as a blazing fire or flickering candles, which greatly reduce scene changing time (although I doubt if the miserly Scrooge would have allowed himself a blazing fire!)  With expert lighting by ACK Productions every scene created appropriate atmosphere – in fact the backdrop subtly changed as some scenes progressed and the atmosphere changed with it. The few necessary props were expertly moved under cover of good blackouts. Sound was mostly good – crowd scenes were beautifully sung although not every word could be deciphered. Soloists’ diction was mostly good – where it wasn’t it was because the actor was too busy acting! The balance with the large 18 piece orchestra (about the biggest I have encountered for an amateur production) was impressive, under the baton of MD Adam Darcy. Costumes by Triple C were colourful and authentic across rich and poor and nice burlesque attire for the featured dancers. Period wigs were evident on many of the ladies and some of the young men had grown their own sideburns. Make up for ‘specials’ was excellent and for others was unobtrusive which means it was authentic.

Scrooge, was ably played by Colin Boyd, displaying his grumpy and miserly character in the opening scenes; especially in relation to his long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit and to pleas for help from a desperate client and charity collectors in the street. When his previous partner, Jacob Marley (Matthew Campbell), appeared to him as a chained and anguished ghost, Scrooge did not believe his warnings of the consequences of living in greed and selfishness. Matthew portrayed the anger and regret at living the same way as his old partner while ‘flying above the stage, and the “Link by Link” musical number backed by ghostly black figures in chains was one of the best in the show. 

On the arrival of Alice Johnston as a gentle and ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past, Colin began the very subtle change as she gave him glimpses of his younger days - in celebrations with his nephew Fred and sweet fiancée Emily (Naomi Smyth), the death of his beloved sister Fan (Olivia Pyper) and the fun they used to have at his old employer Mr Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball. Fezziwig (Fergal White) and his wife (Laura Kerr) gave animated performances as they hosted their very jolly party and it was obvious that Scrooge was tempted to join in. Next, the Ghost of Christmas Present played by Simon Pyper brought light relief in the shape of a loud and boisterous character. However, his serious side took Scrooge to the meagre Christmas table of the Cratchit family and then drew further attention to the plight of the poor when he revealed two sad waifs under his huge cloak. The Ghost of Christmas yet to come (Jordan Rosborough) communicated mostly by gestures – pointing out two gravestones in the graveyard - that of Tiny Tim and that with his own name on it. Jordan was appropriately unsettling, showing Scrooge the delight of ordinary people at his death and dividing up his possessions. Increasingly alarmed by all this and believing what is to come if he doesn’t change, Scrooge wakes up next morning determined to make amends to the many people he has hurt. Colin was able to relax into his natural comic ability for the rest of the show. His whole interpretation of the iconic character of Scrooge was well conceived, showing a flexible and credible change of attitude.

Standing out among other principal roles were Ciaran Conlon as Bob Cratchit, Duarte Silva Moreira as Tiny Tim, 

Tim Reynolds as Fred Anderson, Claire Howell as Scrooge’s mother, Wendy Pyper as Mrs Mopps, Jane McKibbin as 

Mrs Cratchit and those who played the younger versions of Scrooge, Marley and other young people. As Bob Cratchit, Ciaran showed a good natured and hard-working man in spite of his difficult employer. His chemistry with his family especially Tiny Tim was very loving. Duarte was a very credible son who, despite being disabled, believed in the ultimate good in the world. Jane played a supportive and hard-working wife and mother. Tim showed that Fred was the complete opposite of his Uncle Scrooge, being forgiving  and optimistic although not well off, while his wife (Lauren McRoberts) was strong and supportive. All others made the most of their smaller roles and the large chorus were strong and secure in their backing of the action, vocal ability and movement in dance. 

As stated above, Tim’s choreography was always appropriate and fitted extremely well with Wilfie’s excellent production. They created a visual feast for the eye, never allowing it to wander aimlessly and always with something interesting or exciting to see. Adam’s control of the orchestra was most professional and added greatly to this pacey production. This young musician has a bright future ahead!

Overall, a great start to theatre’s reopening after our long wait through the pandemic.

 My thanks to every one involved in this huge effort.