Adelaide Repertory Theatre
The Arts Theatre
Until 23 Nov 2019

Review by Anthony Vawser

You’ve never seen the writing of Charles Dickens done quite like this before.
In fact, you might never have seen a piece of theatre quite like this one before.

All the elements of this enduring story are basically present and correct: miserly Scrooge and his iconic “humbug” expression; the confrontation with his past/present/future; the heart-warming redemption - but most of them have been creatively tweaked and thoroughly ‘quirked-up’. This results in an offbeat brew that certainly brings an element of unpredictability to a tale that might otherwise have felt a tad too familiar.

However, the adaptation by Patrick Barlow can sometimes tip over into sheer strangeness and silliness; nobody could accuse this show of timidity in its trying-on of unusual ideas, but director Megan Dansie’s commendable adventurousness does risk all-important elements like pathos and poignancy becoming obscured behind the cleverness. ‘Breaking the fourth wall’ is a powerful technique in theatre, and when it is combined with performances of unrestrained energy, as well as comical use of puppets, and even outright surrealism on occasion, one can feel that the richness of originality is threatening to overpower the flavour of Dickens.

Fortunately, for the most part, Tony Busch’s performance in the central role keeps things just as grounded as they need to be. Busch is masterly at delineating and drawing out Scrooge’s devious tactics with would-be customers in the play’s first half, so that the audience is as fooled as the poor individuals who come seeking a loan from him. Crucially, the man’s journey is both believable and gripping nearly all of the way.

Supporting the protagonist in an impressively wide variety of roles are Matt Houston, Georgia Stockham, Laura Antoniazzi, David Salter, Jacqui Maynard, and Max Rayner. Each member of this team is talented and versatile enough to ensure that there is a never a dull moment to endure.

If you think you’ve experienced enough versions of Ebenezer Scrooge to last a lifetime, the Rep’s production may be the one to change your mind.