YOU have to be supremely confident in your own ability, have tremendous faith in the quality of the support on hand – or be plain foolhardy – to place yourself alone on a stage and believe that you can hold the interest of, and entertain an audience bringing alive the many characters in the best-known Christmas story ever written.
When, after a brief fanfare, the lights went up on the Ustinov stage revealing Guy Masterson and one plain wooden chair, that was the daunting task facing this actor. Dressed, not in Victorian garb, with a rail full of changes waiting to be used, but a scruffy raincoat over a shirt, baggy trousers and boots, there were to be no visual aids to transport the character back in time. Robb Williams’ original music, and some sound effects, both sparingly used, and dramatic changes of lighting, were all the support that this actor was going to call upon to help him conjure up the many characters who are part of the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge’s Christmas redemption.
Director Nick Hennegan adapted the script from Charles Dickens’ original recitation of the story, which the author presented more than 150 times before a live audience. It is in that same intimate storytelling vein, actor or reader directly talking to and involving the audience, that Masterson follows. Whereas Dickens, locked away behind his lectern, relied almost entirely on his vocal prowess to bring the characters vividly to life, Masterson uses every inch of the Ustinov stage, joyfully dancing as a youth at his old employer Mr Nigel Fezziwig’s Christmas party, pleading on his knees to the Ghost of Christmas to come for another chance to redeem himself.
And he does not spare himself for a moment as he goes back and forth from high emotion, broad humour and fierce passionate outpourings, introducing the audience to many colourful characters on en-route.
For all the passion exploding on stage. there was room for a little more of the sinister underbelly of the story to dominate at times, and one or two of the characters could have had a sharper edge to their portraits. But these comments are insignificant when you place them next to a performance that managed to bring out so much of the drama and comedy within a story that is so well documented that all but a handful in the audience would not be able to recite almost verbatim.
The good, the bad and the ugly sides of Christmas are all contained in this story, which unstintingly Guy Masterson, with nary a word or move out of place, tells so entertainingly, with a dash of social conscience thrown in for good luck.
Photograph Brigitta Scholz-Mastroianni