Theatre lovers are about to get their holiday wish as Neptune Theatre has announced the return of live theatre on its Fountain Hall stage with Dickens’ a Christmas Carol.
A long-standing holiday tradition on Halifax’s theatre scene since premiering in 2003, artistic director Jeremy Webb’s adaptation of Dickens’ classic story is the perfect show to re-open for live performances. It will also serve as a fundraiser to help Neptune remain viable over the coming months until it can reopen.
“It has been selling out for years and is a joyful part of a holiday season that people are so worried about losing right now,” says Webb. “We decided if we can make it work, it would be the perfect show to dip our toes back into live performances.”
What makes Dickens’ a Christmas Carol the ideal show during the pandemic is its small cast and financials that made sense.
“It came down to the size of the show,” says Webb. “It’s one actor and one puppeteer physically on stage. It’s pre-rehearsed and pre-built. We own the set, the costumes, the props, everything. From an expense point of view, it was a low-risk show.”
It is also a known entity, with audiences coming back to year-after-year.
“It is a show that has been proven and tested,” says Webb. “It’s a very traditional rendition of Dickens’ story with a lovely set, some projections, and puppets that are quite spooky. It is very family-friendly with a couple of little chills in it. And it has a lot of heart.”
With the central role initially performed by Webb, he stepped off the stage and into the director’s chair as he handed the reins of Scrooge to local actor Rhys Bevan-John in 2015.
“I stopped doing it because I had performed it over 750 times every Christmas, and it was just exhausting,” says Webb with a laugh. “I thought it was time to retire from him for a little bit and get someone else to do it. Five years ago, Rhys took it over and does a much better job, I must say.”
It is a show that both Rhys and Webb are intimately familiar with, having created it with Bill Wood nearly twenty years ago when Webb found himself between gigs.
Whether you watch it live or online, it is a fantastic story of redemption, hope and love, all dressed up with Scrooge’s meanness and his journey of learning about himself. – Jeremy Webb
“I had done some Neptune holiday shows in the past, and that season I wasn’t going to be in one,” says Webb. “I thought, what am I going to do, how am I going to pay my rent?”
Initially thinking of a simple reading of the novel, similar to what Dickens did during his lifetime, Webb’s theatrical juices started flowing. He knew it needed to be more.
Gathering Bevan and Woods from the Improv Knights, an improv comedy troupe he had been working with at the time, the three originated the show together.
“I wrote a version of it that had a lot of opportunities for audience participation, big sections of improvised comedy and lots of schticks and Vaudevillian stuff,” says Webb. “All of the comedy that I love, and you still see in some of my work today.”
From its original ten-day run, Dickens’ a Christmas Carol has not only seen an almost yearly remount in Halifax but has also toured across the Atlantic provinces and into the United States. “It just keeps going,” says Webb.
This year is no different, although Webb does admit some things have had to change because of the pandemic.
“In the previous 17 years, Rhys has got down into the audience and walked around the crowd but won’t be doing that this year,” says Webb. “But otherwise, it is the same show. We are just moving it onto the mainstage rather than the Scotiabank stage so we can fit 100 people instead of the 50 people that physical distancing rules say we can have on the Scotiabank stage.”
While this will be the first live show for Neptune since March, the company does have some practice under its belt in bringing audiences into Fountain Hall, having just come off the recent screening of Thom Fitzgerald’s film Splinters.
“It was certainly very cool to be able to sit in the theatre with other people and watch something,” says Webb, who has not ruled out the possibility of another film screening in the future. “I don’t see any reason we wouldn’t do it again if we should find movies that people want to come see.”
Captured on film on the Scotiabank Stage back in August, like Splinters, Dickens’ a Christmas Carol will also be available on the Neptune at Home digital platform for those who may not be ready to return to live performances.
“For those who love the show, it is going to be kind of cool that they can make a choice now to see it live or on Neptune at Home,” says Webb.
Webb is excited to share the experience, especially with those who attend a live performance, which hasn’t happened on a Neptune Stage since the company closed its doors on March 13.
“Whether you watch it live or online, it is a fantastic story of redemption, hope and love, all dressed up with Scrooge’s meanness and his journey of learning about himself,” says Webb.
With tickets selling fast, Webb’s hope for more live shows in the future is also within grasp. He hopes that they can offer two other productions in the new year. However, he does know much will depend on how well Nova Scotians keeps COVID-19 in check.
“I’m looking at something within the first few months of the year and then maybe another. That should, in theory, take us to the summer of 2021, which is the moment when we are saying we want to be back in operation with Billy Elliot.”
Dickens’ a Christmas Carol plays live at Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall and on the Neptune at Home digital platform from November 24 through December 27. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.