Jack Thorne Spreads Dickens’ Words of Warmth & Equality
by Tyler Jeffreys & Barry David Horwitz
London’s Old Vic has created a new Scrooge and he’s in San Francisco, right now. This sympathetic performance by Francois Battiste, well-known TV star, brings us closer to the machinations in the mind of a pitiable, deprived Ebeneezer.
Despite his harshness toward nephew Fred (elegant LeRoy S. Graham III) and Bob Cratchit (soulful Ramzi Khalaf), we sense that he marvels at the goodness of decent and delightfully diverse people. And we feel pangs for Battiste’s Scrooge as he repeats the old mistakes.
Battiste channels Dickens’ beautiful poetic prose, in a new and spectacular staging. Many hundreds of old-fashioned metal lanterns, flickering hand high high up, transform the massive theater into a great castle. Looking up, we are startled by the extravagant universe.
The multiple lanterns connect us to the stars. This “A Christmas Carol” takes us on both interior and exterior journeys—to the humanity and to the community around us.
When we enter, the carolers of the London streets are onstage, dancing and singing. We are drawn into a delightful party, even before Scrooge appears.
When Scrooge enters, the spectacular lighting of his small and confining office dominates. Empty door frames rise up from the stage, repeatedly, to close Scrooge in, trapping him in a self-created cage.
The prison cell of door frames traps Scrooge—with magnificent smoke and light. We are cast into an abstract world of Scrooge’s mind and spirit. When Marley (scary Ben Beckley) bursts in, he wears wonderfully tattered coats with heavy chains. Thanks to Tony winning Rob Howell, every costume and design is spectacular and stunning.
It’s a story that points at each of us, as we recognize Scrooge in ourselves, in our outlook, in our culture.
Among the wonders are the three powerful ghosts, all dressed in beautiful flowered pinafores: a stern Nancy Opel, a passionate Amber Iman, and a wise Monico Ho. Each brings forth the sympathetic story of Scrooge’s pitiable boyhood and his imminent fate.
The Young Scrooge, played by a sensitive Kris Saint-Louis, touches our hearts, leading us to feel more about Scrooge’s threatening history.
During the intermission, we go outside for fresh air and look across the street. We see the homeless and their tents, just across Market Street. They are yelling at each other, while still extending a begging hand towards us. This jolt makes Scrooge even more meaningful.
In Act Two, a chorus of hooded phantoms lurks behind a wall of smoke, and Battiste shows us what makes Scrooge change his stingy, sour attitude. Like a legion of demons, the figures predict his doom. Scrooge witnesses a litany of horrible crimes, but one of them stands out: Theft.
Scrooge loses everything to the thievery and corruption that lurks around him. We understand suddenly that we, too, are involved in the suffering and the pilfering of lives around us.
When the ghost reveals thieves stealing Scrooge’s hoard, we think about deprivation across the street, across the country. Car break-ins and assault are now a common daytime activity. The poor have had enough of watching us frolic as they suffer. We haven’t done much about their poverty.
The miracles of Act Two include humor, empathy, and compassion. The Old Vic has fashioned a stylish and spectacular journey, well worth reliving–a unique, sensory show. As charming Tiny Tim (Gabriel Kong) always says: “God bless us every one!”
“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne, directed by Jamie Manton, originally conceived by Matthew Warchus, An Old Vic Production, by BroadwaySF, at the Golden Gate Theatre, San Francisco. Info: BroadwaySF.com – to December 26, 2021.
Cast: Francois Battiste, Nancy Opel, Amber Iman, Ben Beckley, Charlie Berghoffer IV, Gabriel Kong, Samuel Faustine, LeRoy S. Graham III, Monica Ho, Ramzi Khalaf, Stephanie Lambourn, Ash Malloy, Kris Saint-Louis, Annie Sherman, Wiley Naman Strasser, and Colin Thomson.
Banner photo: Nancy Opel, Francois Battiste, Amber Iman, Monica Ho. Photos: Joan Marcus