Review: ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of A Christmas Carol is a delightfully faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. Co-written by Donald Hicken and Sally Boyett, and directed by Donald Hicken, this version is a joyful way to start the holiday season.

Dexter William Hamlett as Ebenezer Scrooge in Annapolis Shakespeare Company's production of A Christmas Carol. Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.
Dexter William Hamlett as Ebenezer Scrooge in Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of A Christmas Carol. Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

Dexter Hamlett perfectly captures Scrooge, his bitterness and sarcasm radiating from the stage as he jumps up to chase away the boy (Joseph D’Angelo) caroling at his office door, or angrily ignores his nephew Fred’s (Ian Charles) Christmas wishes. There are moments of comedy too, when he tries to negotiate with Marley (Nate Ruleaux) how often the Ghosts will appear, or when observing Fred’s festivities and suggesting words for one of their games. He hits the powerful emotional moments as well, begging the first Ghost (Amanda Spellman) to stop showing him scenes from his past, on his knees imploring the final Ghost (Connor Padilla) to allow him the chance to change. His transformation at the end is remarkable to watch, as he giggles with joy and leaps across the stage. He puts on an astonished Bob Cratchit’s (Nash Tetterton) hat and scarf for him, then leads him out the door.

The other actors each play multiple roles. Nash Tetterton plays Cratchit with a hushed strength, quietly but firmly demanding Christmas day off from work and defending his toast to Scrooge when his wife (Olivia Haller) protests. He briefly trails off in his reminiscence- his voice full of emotion- when describing Tiny Tim (Joseph D’Angelo) as Haller pulls him towards her. He closes his eyes in anticipation of Scrooge’s punishment for coming in late, then looks wide in surprise at Scrooge’s reaction.

Joseph D’Angelo is a charming Tiny Tim, full of life and positivity as he hobbles on his crutch. As the Turkey Boy, he and Hamlett circle each other in mock suspicion, and is humorously cheeky as a guest at Mr. Fizziwig’s (Darren Marquart) party. He sings mockingly to Scrooge as the caroling boy.

Jennie Bissell plays Scrooge’s young and beloved Belle with passion. Sitting while Young Scrooge (Connor Padilla) paces, she calmly but firmly makes the case that their romance must end. Padilla silently rages, as Hamlett, observing, reaches out to comfort his younger self. It is a powerful moment.

Nate Ruleaux steals the scene as Jacob Marley, his agonized wails sending Hamlett racing to the edge of the stage. The famous speech “Mankind was my business!” is full of emotion, one of the strongest scenes in the play.

Amanda Spellman gives a quiet dignity to the Ghost of Christmas Past, softly but firmly overriding Scrooge’s objections to their visit. Darren Marquardt plays the Ghost of Christmas Present with authority, throwing Scrooge’s words back at him in mockery. Connor Padilla is frightening as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, looming over Scrooge in complete silence, and outstretching his arm to point.

Scenic Designer Salydon Boyken created a sparse set that feels like Victorian London, complete with fog. At the bottom of the backdrop is an outline of the London skyline, while gas lamps look out from the center. Wooden boxes serve as seats and desks, and a table and chairs come out as needed.

Projections Designer Joshua McKerrow uses the backdrop to throw various images onstage, mainly paintings by period artists such as John Grimshaw and James McNeill Whistler. Some of these paintings are street scenes, while others show Scrooge’s office and bedroom. Some have animated snow falling. The screen is also used for a neat trick with the door knocker and introduces one of the Ghosts.

Adam Mendelson does a wonderful job as Lighting Designer. The fog thickens as Marley enters. The lights darken for the Ghosts’ visitations, enhancing the supernatural feel. One light serves as a fire for the Cratchits’ home.

Costume Designer Sandra Spence and Wig/Make-up Designer Jessica McKee do wonderful work with outfits that evoke the Victorian era. Scrooge wears a black jacket, vest, and pants, with a red scarf, later changing into a white nightshirt and stocking cap with a black dressing gown. Bob Cratchit has a white shirt, green vest, and a red bowtie. Tiny Tim has a black jacket, gray pants, and a gray cap, with a long wooden crutch; the other boys have the same, but with a ragged pink shawl.

The Ghost of Christmas Past wears a white lace gown and silver garlands, while the Ghost of Christmas Present has a long green and white cloak and green laurels, carrying a long golden scepter. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come wears a long, black shroud that covers him completely, while he carries a tall wooden staff. Marley is extremely pale with dark black jacket and pants, and a white bandage wrapped around his head. Chains attached to a heavy weight are tied to his waist.

Voice and Dialect Coach Nancy Krebs ensures the actors speak in the right accent for their class. Scrooge sounds distinctly polished and upper-class, while the Cratchits speak slightly less so. The Charwoman and Old Joe have the immediately recognizable Cockney accent.

The cast of Annapolis Shakespeare Company's production of A Christmas Carol. Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.
The cast of Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of A Christmas Carol. Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

Sally Boyett shines as Choreographer and Sound Designer. There are several dance sequences that are gorgeous to watch, with all the actors dancing fluidly with each other. Before Marley appears, bells ring and doors creak mysteriously, adding to the feel of the supernatural. Spooky music helps introduce another Ghost.

Donald Hicken is a wonderful Director. The actors navigate the stage and each other with ease, and handle the multiple roles perfectly, changing outfits and characters quickly. The acting, directing, choreography, lighting, and sets all work together to make a fun, family-friendly performance. You might leave the theater like Scrooge, “happy as an angel…merry as a schoolboy…giddy as a drunken man.”

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

A Christmas Carol plays through December 30, 2018, at Annapolis Shakespeare Company – 1804 West Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.