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|Written by Wayne Current|
|Friday, 18 December 2009 00:00|
There's a new theatre company in town, and it is based at the National Arts Centre.
It has been a quarter of a century since the NAC last had a resident English theatre acting company, and I am excited that it has been resurrected. 'The NAC 40th Anniversary English Theatre Acting Company' is a diverse collective of 18 actors from all over the nation. On Friday, December 11, the new company launched their season with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
Dickens' family-friendly yuletide favourite is, on the one hand, a very un-ambitious start for a brand new national company. It is, nonetheless, an appropriate choice for this time of year. There is something timeless about the story that appeals to a broad audience, which is undoubtedly why there are so many versions of it in circulation this year. Opening night was nearly sold out, and I'm sure tickets will be hard to come by if you don't book them early.
In many ways, the NAC's version directed by Peter Hinton is a very conventional take on this well-known 19th-century play. Eo Sharp's costume design does an admirable job of evoking Victorian England, and the minimalistic set design is also generally effective (though Scrooge and Marley's names in large golden lettering far above the stage is tacky and out of place).
The show's greatest weakness is in its lighting design, which for the most part is much too dark. It is undoubtedly meant to set the mood for the performance, but cloaking performers in shadow for prolonged periods of time only serves to hinder the audience's view of the actors' expressions and performances. Even as atmosphere, the content of many of the scenes is actually much lighter than the lighting design would suggest.The NAC's production of A Christmas Carol, while not without its flaws, is certainly worth seeing.
Particularly enjoyable, however, is the play's choral/ensemble work. Whether providing background noise or advancing the narrative, it is quite effective throughout. Also enjoyable are the Christmas carols sung during the play; there's nothing like a few well-sung carols to get you into the Christmas spirit.
The NAC's 40th Anniversary English Theatre Company's inaugural production of A Christmas Carol, while not without its flaws, is certainly worth seeing. It is family friendly (for children 10 and up) and is sure to be a hit.
With a new company in town, this is an exciting time for Ottawa theatre goers. But given that this is a resurrection of an old company, let's take a moment to re-visit some of the reasons why the NAC's original English Theatre Acting Company disappeared.
(Queue the fog machine, a clock chiming 12 bells at midnight, and enter the Ghost of Theatre Past.)
Sarah Jennings, author of Art and Politics: The History of National Arts Centre, recounts that a large contributing factor to the original company's demise was poor artistic choices by John Wood, the artistic director of the company.
She suggests, "...it was unfortunate then, that Wood decided to pin his chances on his own awkwardly titled musical and a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet - a work frequently performed elsewhere," (Jennings, 150).
In fact, Jennings asserts that, if it were not the last minute addition of Waiting for the Parade by Canadian playwright John Murrel to the original company's tour, they would have been even less successful.
Another contributing factor was the in-fighting that took place among competing theatre practitioners -- producing, in one instance, a version of the same play as the NAC's touring company.
In short, poor artistic choices, and artists squabbling amongst themselves led to poor attendance, the eventual withdrawal of government funding, and the demise of the company.
Hopefully this new company will learn from the mistakes of the past and will thrive well into the future. I, for one, would love to see them take on a Canadian play by a living playwright.