TISM; ‘A Christmas Carol’; ‘The American’ by the ACO

On stage, it’s still the band’s unrelenting, lively mix of electric guitars, punchy beats, and loosely choreographed dance moves that’s so enthralling.

TISM’s surprise show at Prince Bandroom is sure to go down in local folklore.

TISM’s surprise show at Prince Bandroom is sure to go down in local folklore.Credit:Ben Thompson

And who could forget those timeless lyrics? For the pensioners and younger folks all joyously singing along to Greg! The Stop Sign!! it was like gathering round the ol’ family piano to bash out some show tunes.

Just when you thought it was safe to go out again, TISM have reared their heads.
Reviewed by Martin Boulton

A Christmas Carol ★★★★
Adapted from Charles Dickens by Jack Thorne, Comedy Theatre, opened November 18

Cynicism will never be the new black – it’s always in style – but as Victorians head to voting booths in the lead up to silly season, they may need something extra to banish, or at least tame, less charitable impulses. Luckily, one show guaranteed to do just that, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is now playing Melbourne in a slick and charming Old Vic production with David Wenham as Ebenezer Scrooge.

A scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’, starring David Wenham.

A scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’, starring David Wenham.Credit:Jeff Busby

Dickens’ tale weaves the ghost story into a timeless parable that, despite a whiff of preposterousness, never turns Christmas into a source of toxic positivity.

Social inequality and the heartless pursuit of profit are still with us, and this stage adaptation from Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) foregrounds the indictment of them, weaving nimbly between enacted scenes and choric narration, sometimes unfurling with uncluttered theatricality into song and dance.

Music is a highlight. Christmas carols in seamless harmony, the whole ensemble performing handbell choruses, and an up-tempo folk band all help to shape the pace and add to the humour and drama, from the iconic scene where Ebenezer slams and bolts the door against carollers to the comedy and pathos of his festive revelations.

Wenham’s Scrooge looms large. We get the legendary miser in full Dickensian caricature, and it’s fun to watch him sneer and snarl and “Bah, humbug” his way through Christmas Eve, before a visitation from beyond the grave – the condemned spirit of his former business partner Jacob Marley (Anthony Harkin) – forces a reckoning, and a change of heart.

David Wenham and Sarah Morrison in the Melbourne production of ‘A Christmas Carol’.

David Wenham and Sarah Morrison in the Melbourne production of ‘A Christmas Carol’.Credit:Jeff Busby

Accomplished ghosts guide the action. Debra Lawrance assumes a grave kindliness as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Samantha Morley a gothic glamour as the Ghost of Christmas Present, with Emily Nkomo doubling as both an accusing Ghost of Christmas Future and the buried memory of Scrooge’s little sister Fan.

The storytelling remains economical and well-paced, building to a warm reconciliation between Scrooge and his nephew (Andrew Coshan), and a Christmas feast with Bob Cratchit (Bernard Curry) his wife (Stephanie Lambourn) and Tiny Tim (Theo Watson-Bonnice) that springs into light-hearted audience participation and a Christmas-themed musical finale.

A Christmas Carol is heart-warming and stylishly directed commercial theatre. It’ll solidly entertain adults and children alike, and the goodwill it inspires should uplift even the most inveterate of scrooges.
Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead

The American ★★★★
Australian Chamber Orchestra, Melbourne Recital Centre, November 19

As racial and political tensions continue to roil America, this thoughtfully conceived and energetically presented concert allowed the Australian Chamber Orchestra to explore the distance between reality and the American dream from a musical perspective.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra perform ‘The American’.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra perform ‘The American’.Credit:Nic Walker

To what extent this work embodies the Bohemian composer’s vision, formed after several years of working in America, that an American national music might be based on “Negro melodies” is a moot point, but his idealism has had some belated traction in the recent rediscovery of Black composers like George Walker and Florence Price, who also featured.

Walker’s early Lyric for Strings pays homage to the celebrated Adagio by his fellow student Samuel Barber, but also surprises with its faint echoes of Vaughan Williams. Three settings from Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint dressed up familiar melodies in high romantic garb, giving them something of a grandmotherly feel, yet they were not without some levity.

Unsurprisingly, various facets of minimalism were explored. Aheym by Bryce Dessner was an arresting curtain-raiser in which old and new worlds collided, bringing bracing, mechanistic rhythms together with a modal melody, redolent of his Jewish ancestry.

A new commission, Echo Transcriptions by Samuel Adams, son of the composer John Adams, colours a minimalist soundscape not only with solo electric violin, but Moog synthesizer and electric guitar. This music, with its complex rhythms and textures, was most effective when its freneticism was relieved by moments of appealing repose.

The fifth movement of Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel delivered unorthodox serenity, while selections from John’s Book of Alleged Dances by John Adams displayed the veteran composer’s masterful technique in witty, nostalgic utterances.

A sprightly and deftly coloured account of Richard Tognetti’s effective, new transcription of the Dvorak brought to a close this fascinating survey of the not-so-united states of American music.
Reviewed by Tony Way

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