Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge has never seen the likes of it. Take the classic tale A Christmas Carol and put a Jewish twist on it. That is what writer Elise Esther Hearst has done with Phillip Kavanagh … and they have absolutely nailed this world premiere. Oy Humbug! Channel Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) on the US TV series The O.C. (2003-2007).
Christmas and Chanukah come around the same time each year. You mash the two together and you get Chrismukkah. That is what Elysheva Scroogavitz’s (Miriam Glaser) family is trying to celebrate. Problem is, Ely doesn’t want a bar of it. She is in no mood to rejoice.
She runs a failing bakery named Ada’s, having taken it over from her dear departed grandmother (Bubi). So, here Ely is, toiling away without customers trying to turn out the perfect gingerbread man, the recipe for which she never received from Bubi (Evelyn Krape). Her family is ready to get all festive with her, but she is in a foul mood.
She has just lost the love of her life, her Christian fiancé Ben (Michael Whalley), who was taken far too soon … with their baby due to arrive at any moment. Imploring her to let them lend a helping hand are Ely’s mother Fran (Natalie Gamsu), sister Sarah (Emma Jevons) and intended mother-in-law Carol (Louise Siversen).
In too, trying to calm the waters, is the rabbi Rikva (Jude Perl), who also happens to be Sarah’s special friend. But all this is to no avail and Ely kicks everyone out, intent to go it alone … and that extends to not having support when giving birth. Mind you, everything is about to change when she is visited by spirits past, present and future.
That provides context to Bubi’s background and why she never passed on to Ely the gingerbread recipe that saw customers flocking through the door. Mostly importantly, the story showcases the importance of family. A Very Jewish Christmas Carol is warm, inviting, joyful, triumphant and hilarious … with poignancy in the run home.
The smart one liners come thick and fast, starting with a delightful opening musical number, in which a pair of carolers embrace both the Christian and Jewish holidays. From thereon in, there is barely a moment’s let up from the frivolities, save for the scenes that hark back to Bubi’s upbringing in Poland.
The piece has much mirth and merriment going for it. It has been beautifully composed and executed as part of MTC’s NEXT STAGE Writers’ Program. It is a fresh take on a readily recognised work … and the performances knock it out of the park.
All except Miriam Glaser fill more than one role, whether that be as other characters or as members of the ensemble or, in some cases, both. Some of the best lines go to Evelyn Krape when she assumes the persona of a child-like Golem. Louise Siversen’s comic turn as a rein Dybbuk of Chrismukkah Past is priceless too.
The ever-cheery roving carolers add heart throughout. And A Very Jewish Christmas Carol wouldn’t be the same without a sprinkling of Yiddish and a smattering of Polish for good measure.
Jacob Battista’s bakery set design, with machinery that moves and lights up – where most of the action is set – is creative and utilitarian. Dann Barber has let his imagination fly with some of the colourful costuming.Four years from conception to reality, A Very Jewish Christmas Carol hits the mark. Its direction from Sarah Giles and polish are to be applauded.
There is so much to enjoy here – simply a winner on every level. So, strap yourselves in for a wild and wooly ride, and embrace the magic. One hundred minutes without interval, it is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 16th December, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- A Christmas Carol (QPAC) – theatre review
- Bloom (MTC) – theatre review
- The Importance of Being Jewish (Saltpillar Theatre) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.