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Holiday classic gets steampunk makeover

So much about this version of A Christmas Carol is different than the original Charles Dickens classic, it is nice to have some roots that authentically tap directly into the subject matter.
The cast of Theatre North West’s production of A Christmas Carol rehearse a scene on Thursday. The play opens Nov. 20 with a preview Nov. 19.

So much about this version of A Christmas Carol is different than the original Charles Dickens classic, it is nice to have some roots that authentically tap directly into the subject matter. Theatre North West has done this play before, in the old fashioned way, but this time it's a new old fashioned way. They are dressing it up in steampunk brass, glass and leather.

Steampunk, for those unfamiliar with the striking visuals of this branch of science fiction, is an aesthetic based on 19th century high fashion: various combinations of top hats, silky bodices, ornate boots, cravats for men, veils for women, greatcoats, petticoats, a lot of acceptable cross-dressing and provocative dressing as much as opulent deliberate overdressing in either the North American wild west or the Victorian industrial age of Europe.

But the definitive elements of the steampunk spirit is in the accessories: goggles, machinery, cogs and wheels, pulleys and chains, firearms, metal gauntlets, a sense of exaggeration to many of the garments.

The look of steampunk strikes a popular chord because it is undeniably artistic and chic-industrial, but it also makes a statement with clothing, furniture and other accessories of life.

It asks the fantastical question: what if the steam age had not been supplanted by the electricity age and the oil age? What would the next steps be in how people dressed and behaved if steam-power had carried on just a little longer into history?

Since the steampunk movement is rooted in an era of great writers who had a sense of futuristic vision, plus a sleek artistic style - writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Lewis Carroll, H.G. Wells, Franz Kafka - it is natural to apply a coat of steampunk paint to A Christmas Carol.

Charles Dickens was indeed one of those writers from that pivotal point in time.

Actor David Warburton is well acquainted with that place, that way of life, the echoes of that age. It's not that he is extraordinarily old. But England, for all its progress, also posts many signs back to that transitional period in history. He brings that ingrained knowledge into his performance as Scrooge, the iconic protagonist in A Christmas Carol.

"I grew up in the northwest of England (Stockport) where the remnants of the industrial revolution are still right before your eyes," he said, during a rehearsal break at the theatre. "When I was a kid in the '50s, horses were still used to deliver things from the brewery or the coal mine or the milk. And there are still those remnants around even now."

Upbringing was only one of the reasons Warburton was chosen to play Scrooge. "Some call this the poor man's Hamlet," he said, relishing the chance to display this beloved part for Prince George audiences. Many will be familiar with him. His was the tour de force performance of the stroke-stricken father in the emotionally charged play Secret Mask presented in April at Theatre North West.

"Good, eh," he said at getting a return ticket to the Prince George stage so soon. He is based in Ottawa but acts all over Canada.

"I was looking forward to coming back, but you just never know how the casting is going to go. When I heard about Christmas Carol I thought it would be great to have a go at playing Marley, I was fine being whatever they saw me doing, but Scrooge... Scrooge!"

Andy Pogson has played in A Christmas Carol before, here in Prince George. He was born and raised in theatre-rich Stratford, Ont. but didn't find his way into the Stratford ecosystem of the stage until Grade 8. His viewing then of A Comedy Of Errors was an epiphany. He seized on it as a professional goal, went to Windsor for university, then Toronto to swim in the deepest theatre waters Canada has. There, he was spotted by Theatre North West and came to Prince George in 2008 to play the parts of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future.

This time, he is embodying Bob Cratchit, and he loves the rebooted storyline and steampunk sensibilities this production is using.

It's a universal story at the core, he said, so it can easily handle a welcome new version that begs us to reconsider the future and the past and how we stand between those things with our technologies and our lifestyle choices.

"This is a wonderful adaptation, a lovely renewal for me to go into that world of this play we all know so well," he said. "It's a sweet and familiar world, and so timely now with the world events that force us to think about how we take care of people and build our shared values and shape our communities and where our money goes at the end of the day, in this day and age. I think having a four-year-old now plays a role in my own thinking about that - how the human heart has the ability and the obligation to look out for other human hearts. That's especially helpful for this particular role, as the parent of Tiny Tim who has to face that reality of a very vulnerable child in his care."

Ruby Joy has four roles to play in this production, and brings a world view of her own to this universal fable. She has dual Canadian-American citizenship and so works the stages and cameras on both sides of the 49th parallel. She started on the boards in New York, came to Canada initially for a set of episodes of TV show The Republic of Doyle, then caught a current into the Toronto theatre scene. This is her first time to Prince George and already she sees signs of this city's values that feed into the play's values.

"I quickly noticed a strong sense of community here," she said.

"I'm interested now in finding out more about the people who live here, why they choose to live here, and I already know they will be excellent reasons."

She plays one of the ghosts who visit Scrooge and scare him into changing his ways or accepting his damnation. "These are tough-love spirits. They care for Scrooge. Their intentions are his welfare. Their truths are about his life," she said. "It's just very exciting for me to do a play I've never done before, in a community I've never been before, for a theatre company I've never worked with before. It's a real privilege."

A Christmas Carol tickets are on sale now primarily through the TNW website and already the sales have been brisk.

Citizen marking International Actors Day

Today is International Actors' Day. The Citizen will be celebrating this profession, this unique and articulate art form, with a series of articles that span the entire week. It is a thank-you to those who make stage, television and film their profession, in recognition that learning the skills of acting also instill valuable skills for life that uplift the individual and the community.

Prince George has a rich, vibrant history doing the craft of theatre. Many from here have gone on to professional and semi-professional careers. Many from outside the community, from workaday actors to legendary celebrities, have come here to share the art and science of it with local residents, be that as a standup comedian or an actor in a local production or a VIP guest on the stage of Northern FanCon. The next seven days will be a tip of the Citizen's hat to this high-vulnerability but high-reward job that we all benefit from at some level.