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Review: ‘A Huron County Christmas Carol’ at the Blyth Festival


An Adaptation with Deep Local Resonance

By Adam Corrigan Holowitz, Dec. 12, 2019

In a sea of theatrical versions of “A Christmas Carol,” the Blyth Festival’s production of “A Huron County Christmas Carol” stands out for being an adaptation that is strongly connected to the community. As well, what is noteworthy is the company’s compelling reason behind the creation and presentation of this piece.

Gil Garratt’s adaptation, set in present-day Huron County, has an urgency that leads to a truly moving theatrical experience. I found myself in tears near the end.

Garratt states in his program note that according to a 2017 United Way study, nearly eight thousand people in Huron County live below the poverty line. So the messages of “A Christmas Carol” are especially important in this region. Transporting the story to a local setting, moves well beyond a clever exercise, to become incredibly meaningful, illuminating both the essence of the original story and important aspects of Huron County culture. This piece stands as yet another example of the benefit of artists being part of a community for a long time; one who can create work that truly connects to the local region.

A prime example of this is Garratt’s choice to reimagine Fezziwig’s Christmas into a broadcast of the “The Barn Dance” on CKNX in Wingham.

“The Barn Dance” is a legendary radio program. As Garratt, explored in his 2014 play “St. Anne’s Reel,” “The Barn Dance” had a significant impact on the cultural and economic fabric of Huron County between 1937 and 1963. The radio show provided work and showcased local musicians. As a result, a community of working musicians formed in the region. The station founder Doc Cruickshank is held an example of someone who understood the importance of investing in the community.

Cast of Huron County Christmas Carol.
Photo: Terry Manzo.
This scene sits in contrast to the theme of globalization that runs through Garratt’s adaptation. Scrooge is concerned with foreign markets and frequently cites that December 25 is just another day to global investors. This is a smart writing choice, as one of the major differences between 1843, (when “A Christmas Carol” was published), and the present day is that we now live in a globalized economy, as opposed to the regional industrial economy of the original Scrooge. This changes the nature of the story in a very effective way. The greed of Scrooge does not belong to just one man, but is the greed of a global economy.

Along with the serious realities that have been woven into this adaptation, I’d be remiss to not mention the multitude of joy, heart and laughter in this production. This is thanks in part to the writing and to a uniformly strong ensemble (made up of Marion Day, Greg Gale, Graham Hargrove, Jonah Aron Manley, Marek Norman and Alicia Toner) that brings great empathy to their performances. The ensemble also powerfully performs John Power’s original songs, which fit perfectly in the world of the play.

Randy Hughson, an actor who has spent the past twelve seasons at Stratford, but who many still associate as a fixture of Blyth, is one of the few actors I have seen who has captured the nuance of Scrooge’s epiphany and restoration. The moment Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Future if he can make a difference in the course of the future is soaked in authentic remorse. You truly get an understanding of the discovery Scrooge is reconciling with.

Randy Hughson, Marek Norman.
Photo: Terry Manzo.
As the reformed Scrooge, refreshingly, Hughson never once strays (as so many have) into a silly out of control Scrooge. Here we have a Scrooge who has a clear objective to make right amongst those closest to him and to improve his community as a whole. It is utterly moving. To see this performance is to see a clear and effective reading of the reformation of a man.

Jonah Aaron Manley, age 12, creates a smart and playful Tiny Tim. A particularly moving moment involves Tim playing a song at the piano for his parents, which also showcases Manley’s skilled piano playing.

Cast of Huron County Christmas Carol.
Photo: Terry Manzo.
Greg Gale is endearing and complex as Bob Cratchit. He also begins and ends the play with narration and delivers Garratt’s richly textured language, to great effect. Scrooge is described as being “fallow for decades, and weeds wound around his veins.” The text is imbued with a local understanding and evocative dramatism.

Garratt’s writing throughout is beautifully detailed full of metaphor and allusion. Garratt effectively draws on referencing Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” as a story that parallels Scrooge’s own change of heart. There also might be a possible allusion to Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant,” early on in the play when it is said a cold microclimate exists around Scrooge. We hear the end of three classic Christmas films playing in the background on Scrooge’s television before each ghost arrives, a reminder of how the idea of Christmas has evolved since Dickens first wrote the story.

There is so much that is unique, fresh, important and joyous in “A Huron County Christmas Carol,” here is hoping it becomes an annual programming tradition.

Adam Corrigan Holowitz
Adam works as a dramaturg, director and playwright. He is the founding artistic director of AlvegoRoot Theatre. He holds a BA Hons from York University where he studied dramaturgy.

Details, Details:
A Huron County Christmas Carol
The Blyth Festival
On now until Dec. 22, 2019
Click for details and tickets
Call the box office: 877-862-5984
Ask about the seniors’ discount on Sunday, matinee performances.

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Review: ‘A Huron County Christmas Carol’ at the Blyth Festival

Keith Tomasek
12 December 2019
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