If Dickens was a kiwi...?

Posted on December 16, 2013 by Basement

If you’re sitting at home tonight having not seen A Basement Christmas Carol, then I have to ask “what exactly are you doing with your life!?!” I mean I know there is a lot of important stuff happening this time of year, but I am going to guess that right about this time in the “holiday” season we all need a good chuckle, a strong drink, and a good reminder as to why we haven’t decided to become our own versions of Ebenezer Scrooge.

The story of Scrooge, as penned by one Charles Dickens, is a tale that seems to keep living strong amongst theatre companies all over the world. I had a chance to catch up with actor, Gareth Williams (Scrooge), and ask him about his theories on why this fable of one miserly old man and how he was haunted one Christmas Eve into becoming a decent human being, has kept our societal attention for so many years and specifically about The Basement’s take on this holiday favorite. Gareth, pointed out that the stories basic structure is great for reinvention. It’s a basic tale with a moral under-penning and that is exactly the kind of story that comedians are great at taking the piss out of.

In this case the comedians taking the piss, with a strongly Kiwi culture influenced take, are Nic Sampson, Barnaby Fredric, and Joseph Moore (who wrote the songs). Add to their dry wit and “seat of the pants” style the talent of 50 actors, and the direction of, Sophie Roberts, and you can see how this show can live up to the tag line “Suck My Dickens.” One of the things that had me interested and excited about this production was the use of a rotating cast. While Gareth Williams and Bree Peters were in every performance as Scrooge and Cratchitt respectively: Tiny Tim, The Mad Butcher, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Current (Affairs), The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, The Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the Celebrity Ghosts were portrayed by a variety of popular and respected New Zealand comedians, TV/Film actors, and theatre darlings.

Gareth talked about how the variety in talent on the stage from night to night kept things fresh for the show and for the audience. He mentioned that this non-traditional style served the script well; noting that the unpolished feeling is part of the production’s appeal. I would hazard to say that Gareth is being a bit modest; not just any company of actors could pull of such a successful show with so little rehearsal (they basically had two and a half weeks worked out amongst fifty schedules). I had to wonder how Gareth, many years younger than the seventy year old Ebenezer, took to playing the role and what exactly he enjoyed about the challenge. We both agreed that really it’s the skull-cap (not at all made to look realistic) that sets the tone of the entire production and his personal take on the infamous miser. He also said that he enjoyed the freedom he had in bouncing off the script that leaves plenty of room for improv.

All in all, The Basement is closing 2013 with a work of theatre that not only pays homage to this time of year but also, as Gareth said, “celebrates a year in theatre.” It is truly a holiday show that sums up the community-driven, creatively permissive, sometime irreverent vibe that this blogger has enjoyed experiencing in this theatre over the past seven months.