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A Christmas Carol ***1/2

There is something comfortably familiar for me in seeing A Christmas Carol onstage.  Most American theatre companies either have Carol as their yearly holiday show or tend to frequently return to it.  And you’ll be hard pressed to find American theatrical artists of any type who haven’t done a production of it at some point in their career.

And as there are so many Carols out there, I have seen my fair share of the weak, the unfulfilling and the just plain bad.  Thankfully, Dundee Rep’s production fits into the limited category of ‘very good’.

The strongest element of this version is that it plays fair with Charles Dickens’ original.  Many tend to forget that Carol is about the spiritual redemption of a sinner and that it can be both moving and quite scary in parts.  Dundee’s production doesn’t scare, but it does have a few good jolts and scenes that are genuinely moving.

And it has a crackerjack Scrooge in John Buick.  Buick doesn’t play an evil man but a miser, a person who’s possessed by money and financial value, and his transformation in the end is both believable and a joy to watch.

As for the rest, I found the full production very fulfilling.  The ensemble work is solid, without a performance that either stands out or lags, and the design concepts are rather clever.  Neil Duffield’s adaptation is workman-like; it does the job well without either getting in the way or showing much individual flare.  However, James Brining’s direction is quite effective and has many creative flourishes.

There is nothing about Dundee Rep’s production of A Christmas Carol that makes it stand out.  It is neither the best nor worst in any aspect of either all the Carols I’ve seen or in any Christmas show currently playing.  But it has its heart in the right place, and it also manages to both tell Dickens’ beloved story well and be a very entertaining outing.

Playing at Dundee Rep until January 2, 2010.

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