Getting what you Really Want for Christmas
We all have a memory of that one thing that we really, really wanted for Christmas. Maybe you asked Santa at Eaton’s, maybe you told your parents repeatedly, but whatever it was, you just had to have it!
Well, little Ralphie in A Christmas Story, now on stage at London’s Grand Theatre, really, really wants a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass and a thing that tells time in the stock. Set in the early 1940s, A Christmas Story reveals the otherwise mundane life of a slightly dysfunctional family as they prepare for the excitement of Christmas.
The stage version follows the 1983 (almost cult) movie closely. The adult Ralph narrates the tale, as he, his parents, little brother and classmates act out the story. And it is very inventive: they even act out Raphie’s fantasies and day dreams.
Stratford actor Steve Ross returns the Grand after portraying the title role in Shrek last year. As the adult Ralph, who narrates the entire play, he handles a huge script more than capably. Ross combines an understated style with a storyteller’s charm to keep his audience with him. He makes it seem like you’re just listening to a friend talk about his childhood.
Sarah Machin Gale is perfect as the housewife who is smarter than her husband without letting him know. You will remember Machin Gale for her excellent portrayal of Julia Child in To Master the Art, and as one of the Calendar Girls, both at the Grand. She was also exceptional as the mother in Old Wives’ Tales in Port Stanley this past summer.
Matthew Olver is ideal as Ralphie’s hapless and often angry father, otherwise known as The Old Man. He spews forth the most remarkable foul language, never missing a beat. Olver’s stream of invective is mostly directed at the smoking coal furnace and its clinkers, but it’s enough for little Ralphie to learn each word. Olver’s Old Man isn’t quite as offensive as the movie character and for that we’re thankful. His love for the leg lamp is just as powerful, though!
Rachel Jones is hilarious as the teacher Miss Shields, especially with her feather boa in Ralphie’s imagination.
Callum Thompson is adorable as little Ralphie, although sometimes difficult to hear and understand. That’s not a problem, though, as the dialogue and situations are explained by adult Ralph. Isaak Bailey playing little brother Randy is delightful, especially bundled up in his snowsuit and scarf. Logan Thompson is suitably scary as the bully Scut Farkas, and Devony House is endearing as Esther Jane, the little girl with the crush on Ralphie. Josh Buchwald and Hunter Burgess as sidekicks Schwartz and Flick, along with Angelina FosterdelMundo as Helen round out a cast of engaging kids.
The set and costumes are impressive and accurate. The 1940s kitchen and living room are typical of the era, and the car they drive is imaginative and amusing.
The Old Man’s eccentricities create a charming comedy. The Parker family shares its foibles as a nostalgia trip for grandparents, laughs for the parents, and fun for the kids.
A Christmas Story continues at the Grand Theatre, London until December 30. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: Mother (Sarah Machin Gale), The Old Man (Matthew Olver), Raphie (Callum Thompson), and Randy (Isaak Bailey) in A Christmas Story. Photos by Claus Andersen.
A Christmas Story
Based on the 1983 motion picture
Book by Jean Shepherd, adapted by Philip Grecian
Directed by Susan Ferley
Performed by Isaak Bailey, Josh Buchwald, Hunter Burgess, Angelina FosterdelMundo, Devony House, Rachel Jones, Sarah Machin Gale, Matthew Olver, Steve Ross, Callum Thompson, Logan Thompson.
Grand Theatre, London
November 24 to December 30, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson