shake & stir’s A Christmas Carol Review

A Christmas Carol presented by shake & stir theatre co opened its fourth consecutive year at QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre to a thrilling and magical reception. Charles Dickens’ infamous festive tale was brought to life by the talented cast and musicians that left their heart and soul on the stage to start the Christmas season for Queensland families.

The timeless narrative followed the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his disdain for Christmas and the whole merry season. He was miserable about his own life sorrows and took out his inner demons on the poorer community seeking salvation and forgiveness including his co-worker, Bob Cratchit.

As a result, the cranky Scrooge received visits from ghosts of Christmas past, present and future who attempted to confront him with his own wrongdoings and selfishness to urge him to change how he treats others leading up to Christmas to ultimately alter his own destiny.

Eugene Gilfedder embodied the emotionless and grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge. Eugene was brilliant and embraced the role perfectly. In particular, he committed to a mumble and mocking personality trait which translates strikingly to this character. The infamous ‘Bah Hum Bug’ ‘I hate Christmas’ phrase that we all know was used frequently to put emphasis on his hatred for the jolly people he meets at Christmas time. Especially the Christmas carolers who showed up uninvited and the family who asked for an extension on their loan payment.

Eugene carried the essence of Scrooge throughout the play with his negative thoughts until he is haunted by a variety of ghouls. He was versatile and played the sensitive soul that this role entails. A highlight was the delightful happy dance he performed by the conclusion of the show – he was both ecstatic and relieved when the ghosts are gone – although he learned imperative lessons throughout the course of the adventure, including kindness and gratefulness. Playing off each of the ghosts was hilarious as he believed it was all a delusion.

Lucas Stibbard personified the role of Bob Cratchit beautifully with ease and love. Lucas found the small tender moments in Mr. Cratchit as he was grateful to have a job even though Mr. Scrooge was his boss. This is particularly poignant in how he carried himself around his family members. He was a lovely, caring father and husband and knew how to handle his son ‘Tiny Tim’. The audience appreciated the wonderous vulnerability Lucas conveyed as his character’s family mourned over Tim when he becomes ill. They were thankful for what they had even after they lost a part of their family.

Bryan Probets was so powerful and entertaining as he embodied all of the ghosts that the Scrooge was haunted by. The Scrooge’s longtime deceased co-worker Jacob Marley appeared scarily in shackles and chains acting as punishment to the selfish life he led when he mistreated the poor. Jacob Marley came to warn Scrooge about what can occur when he lacks empathy and care for funds not family. The use of projection when he first materialised was so life-like and a world-class piece of theatre. It made you feel as though the character was really there and the technique is phenomenal in the technical theatre realm. Bryan brilliantly characterised the ghost of the past that showed Scrooge how he used to enjoy Christmas until his family fell apart and his fiancé left him during the merry season.

As the ghost of the present, he explained how the poor people in the community were helpless and he informed Scrooge that if he continues to act selfishly then the mildly ill ‘Tiny Tim’ will die. Due to the fact that Tim’s father and the Scrooge’s employee Bob Cratchit is paid very little.

Finally the ghost of Christmas future was the mysterious, black cloaked ghost that showed him his fate and brought Scrooge’s future grave stone into the scene and the tragic death of ‘Tiny Tim’. All with different accents, stances and intentions Probets is an extremely gifted and versatile actor that deserves to be praised for the variety of voices he represented in the show.

Nelle Lee one of the three Co-Artistic Directors of shake & stir graciously and fearlessly portrayed the role of Mrs. Cratchit – Bob’s wife and mother of his children. Nelle had an incredible way of embracing protective instincts when protecting her children. She played the role honestly and realistically as she worried about their finances as a family and ferociously spoke her mind about the way Bob is treated by Mr. Scrooge. He doesn’t assist them financially so they can keep their family afloat, especially juggling a sick child. However she lightened the spirit of Christmas when she kissed Bob under the mistletoe as Nelle and Lucas demonstrated their onstage chemistry. In addition, Nelle beautifully displayed how surprised Mrs. Cratchit was when a giant turkey is gifted to them outside their door on Christmas Day.

Arnijka Larcombe-Weate is a captivating actress on and off stage. She became Belle in an elegant and wonderstruck manner as one of the ghosts revisited the past when Belle and Mr. Scrooge are engaged to be married and are head over heels for each other. She was the Scrooge’s soft spot and he found it hard to watch the scene play out as he missed her very much and let her get away. Arnijka embraced her wide-eyed love for the theatre as she immersed herself on to the stage with such passion and drive. Additionally her comedic chops are on the mark as she struggled to carry the giant-ass turkey to the Cratchit family’s house as asked to do by Mr. Scrooge. This is one of the ways Scrooge changed his ways to redeem himself from his past mistakes.

Ross Balbuziente and Nick Skubij who are two of the three Co-Artistic Director’s of shake & stir gave a whirlwind of a performance as Peter Cratchit and Arthur Cratchit respectively. They brought to life the little boys of the family and the audience suspended disbelief so seamlessly as they don’t appear to be young boys, making snow angels and enjoying dinner with their family.

Ross also embodied Young Scrooge with a glimpse into his delicate love for Belle before his hatred for Christmas began. Nick also portrayed Scrooge’s nephew in the present flashback as he asked Scrooge to succumb to the Christmas mood by inviting him to dinner and was turned down. Scrooge was shocked when he came to his senses and decided to visit him and became a respectful uncle as he stays for dinner.

The ensemble performers and musicians were exquisite and tied the piece together. Nick James, Maddison Burridge and Eli Bunyoung created a beautiful sense of community on stage, particularly in the party scenes and at the bookends of the show as they sung Christmas Carols. They gave the story the little extra magic needed to make it feel like the merry season. Tabea Sitte the violinist was phenomenal and a gifted musician throughout the show. Tabea also played along with the narrative, as Scrooge pointed out playing an instrument was not a real profession, however at the conclusion of the play when he changed his mindset he praised her and ensured her it was a mighty career to be undertaking.

This production was oozing with special effects and seamless projection techniques, stunning period costumes and simple set pieces to transform the audience into the world of Charles Dickens. The projections of the ghosts through the use of halogram looked perfectly life-like and was exceptionally executed to suspend disbelief on the stage. To top it off they carried the magic through to the final bow of the blonde haired ghost as she was the last one ‘standing’ and the snow fell when Mr. Scrooge felt joyful again in the winter wonderland of his life.

shake & stir’s A Christmas Carol once again initiated the beginning of the merry season at QPAC with an extraordinary tale brought to life for Queensland to relish in. Audiences fell in love with the hope and joy this show thrusts upon them. They created an experience that makes people’s hearts soar with delight as well as feeling heartache and understanding one another. The cast, crew and creative team wonderfully adapted this novel into a much loved Christmas play and a continued family tradition for a lot of families. Despite the heat in Brisbane this Christmas don’t miss this play and feel the winter flurries of this heartwarming classic only at QPAC until Christmas Eve.

A Christmas Carol
Playing now until 24 December, 2021
Playhouse Theatre, QPAC

All images – Supplied