by Caitlin Hart
Anyone who has lived in Edmonton over the past nineteen years knows that the Citadel’s A Christmas Carol is a holiday staple — akin to ice castles, West Edmonton Mall parking lot rage, and LRT trains that run twenty minutes behind schedule. But sadly, this is the final year for Scrooge, Cratchit, and Marley, at least in their current form, as the Citadel prepares for a new adaptation in 2019.
It’s been nearly a decade since I last saw A Christmas Carol. In the eight years since, I became somewhat cynical about this particular Christmas tradition. Having worked three Christmas seasons at the Citadel, A Christmas Carol became less about Christmas spirit and more about screaming children, impatient adults who have little regard for theatre etiquette, and a lot of late shifts well into December. It was a treat to return this year and simply enjoy the performance.
And enjoy it I did. Returning to A Christmas Carol is the theatre equivalent of sitting down with a mug of hot chocolate and reading a favourite book on Christmas Eve: it makes you feel at home. A Christmas Carol is part of what makes Edmonton feel like home for many folks, and that feeling is palpable in the theatre — everyone feels warm and fuzzy in the crowded Maclab on a Thursday night.
Since Charles Dickens’ original version in 1843, A Christmas Carol has been adapted for the stage and screen countless times. “Scrooge” is part of our Christmas vernacular, it’s how we talk about anyone who hates Christmas. It’s a classic Dickens story with a cast of beggars, merchants, capitalists, and a disabled child named Tiny Tim (Sasha Rybalko). The Citadel’s production is at once familiar and fresh; the story stays true to the original narrative, without ever feeling boring.
A Christmas Carol exceeded my expectations, even as someone who had seen it before. The script could feel stale after almost two decades, but it is delivered with warmth and energy by the cast, from those who return every year to the newcomers. The eerie effects were still as spooky as ever and the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was just as menacing and unsettling as I recall. The set and costumes, as designed by Leslie Frankish, are not only beautiful, but move seamlessly — the artistry and detail truly transport the audience. The “snow” that falls, the street lights that glow, and the very real chains that rattle from the sleeves of Marley’s ghost lend the show authenticity. For two and a half hours, the audience is truly transported to Victorian London.
After almost two decades of performances, the show never feels tired. There is a spark of energy in the young cast, plus plenty of humour and spirit. Julien Arnold plays a surprisingly lively Scrooge, bringing a fresh take to a character that has become flat and archetypal. His joyful transformation at the end of the show is entirely believable, and contagious — I left the theatre feeling the Christmas spirit that gets lost in the busy month of December.
For nineteen years, the Citadel has been bringing joy and community to Edmonton theatre through A Christmas Carol. As sad as I am to see this tradition change, I am excited to see what is next for the Citadel.
A Christmas Carol is on until December 23 — tickets are available online.