Bringing class to a classic

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol presented by St Peter’s College. Reviewed by Dushy Parakrama

The English Literary and Drama Society of St Peter’s College presented ‘A Christmas Carol’ (December 17 to 19) with a cast of over 50, in all shapes, sizes and ages, who brought to life this charming holiday tale that ushered in the spirit of the season.

From the very beginning, it was obvious that the production value was high. As the audience milled about the foyer, children in costume selling glossy souvenir programmes set a specific tone for the performance about to take place. It took some time for the doors to open to let us in, and once we were comfortably seated, it took even longer (an unfortunate delay of half an hour to be precise) for the show to begin! But once it got going, we were spell-bound. Reminiscent and nostalgic, the mist-infused, snow-drifted Lionel Wendt stage conjured up the chill air of Charles Dickens’ mystical tale which begins on a Christmas eve as cold as Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart.

And so the tale unfolds...

‘A Christmas Carol’ was a novella first published by Chapman & Hall on December 19, 1843. The story tells of the sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge’s ideological, ethical and emotional transformation after the supernatural visitation of his long-dead business partner, Jacob Marley (performed spectacularly by Ivan Saverus, chains and all) and the Spirits of Christmases Past, Present and Yet To Come (effectively portrayed by Kavinda Hettiarachchi, Gehan Block and Miranga Ariyaratne).

Brilliant portrayal: Kanishka Herat as Scrooge

Each Spirit takes Scrooge on a heart-stopping journey, with visits to clerk Bob Cratchit (Iranga Wickremasinghe), Cratchit’s sick little son Tiny Tim (Gavin Weerasinghe), nephew Fred (Miranga Ariyaratne) and other compelling characters. Will Scrooge’s heart be opened? Can he reverse the miserable future he has glimpsed? Will we witness a Christmas miracle?

Charles Dickens’ novella met with instant success and critical acclaim back in the Victorian era. Since then, ‘A Christmas Carol’ remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to stage, screen, opera and other media.

Here and now, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, Directors Neidra Williams and Jehan Bastians brought a touch of class to this classic. Without creating caricatures of the characters of this already super-natural tale, and by presenting it based on reality, this adaptation was refreshing and entertaining without a display of déjà-vu. The brief but poignant scenes (an astounding 24 in all!) were not lost in this manifestation of Dickens’ masterpiece.

The presence of a Narrator added enormous value and effect to the production. The debonair Geoffrey Alagaratnam (also Chairman of the Organising Committee) played the role with great dignity and seamlessly tied together the varying scenes. The moral of the story was well articulated whilst maintaining a reasonable running time of just over two hours.

The huge cast played their respective roles with almost tangible enthusiasm. The ensemble moved as one to create the mood and make the scene changes. Their talent was impressive – for not only did they act their part convincingly, but most of them sang and danced with great flair. Hats off to Choreographer Roshini Gunaratne - she succeeded in doing a great job with the young cast who openly admit to having learnt to sort out their two left feet. And past pupil Eshantha de Andrado fared magnificently with the challenge of voice training the choir.

The brief scene with the ghosts (reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Thriller!) was brilliantly executed and the special effects and lighting by Jerome De Silva throughout the performance was spot on. Special mention must also be made of Shannon Raymond’s sets and Chryshanthi Fernandopulle Saverimuttu’s costumes, where attention was paid to detail, elevating the performance from an ordinary school production to arguably one of the best theatrical experiences witnessed this season.

The guest artistes (Roshini Gunaratne, Dmitri Gunatilake, Sulochana Perera, Bimsara Premaratne and little Lauren Williams-Bastians making her theatre debut) added a dimension that only the fairer sex can bring. I found it blissfully reassuring to see real women play their respective roles – rather than have the lads dress up as girls as is usually the case in a Boys’ School performance. Particularly impressive was Belle (Dmitri Gunatilake), Scrooge’s first and only love, whose ethereal tones floated gently above the action of the scene on soprano pitches that were beautifully controlled, and with finesse at pianissimo.

The stand-out performer of the evening was Kanishka Herat who played the protagonist with sensitive nuances that brought out the emotional extremes of Scrooge. Through this interpretation of the epic role, he concentrated the evocative power of Scrooge’s journey towards emotional maturity, making each potent moment of progression more prevalent. His performance was one that negated the audience’s world and became our reality for the duration of the play. Bravo!

The St Peter’s College present and past pupils’ collaboration with Stage Hands was both effective and charming and this holiday seasonal favourite, produced by Miranga Ariyaratne, powerfully brought home the need for emotional warmth and the true spirit of the season - of joy and goodwill to all.

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