There are many quotes from popular culture that serve to encapsulate the spirit of Christmas. For some, “Teach says every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings,” fills them with holiday cheer; for others, “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more,” warms their cockles.
And for others, Christmas isn’t complete without hearing, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
For those aficionados of the 1983 film A Christmas Story, penned by Jean Shepherd, The Grand Theatre has unwrapped the greatest gift of all – the Philip Grecian stage adaptation of Ralphie Parker’s memories of a fateful Christmas when all he wanted was a Red Ryder, carbine-action, 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and this thing which tells time in the stock.
The stage production plays all the “greatest hits” of the movie: there is the soap scene, there’s the tongue frozen on the pole, there’s the iconic leg lamp, there’s Goldblatt’s Santa slide, there’s the pink rabbit pyjamas – and, of course, there’s the Red Ryder itself. Fans of the movie will feel instantly at home and comfortable with the production and the audience’s enthusiastic response at the key moments showed the familiarity that the majority of people have with the subject matter.
Don’t worry, though — you don’t need to be a fan of the movie to enjoy this production. I came late in life to A Christmas Story, only motivated to watch it when I found out a friend and co-worker was in the movie cast (a little-known London tie to the film!). I don’t have the emotional attachment to the film that many who have made this an annual tradition do. I’m mildly amused by the film, but it’s not on my list of iconic films. With that caveat out of the way, I thoroughly enjoyed The Grand’s production.
Director Susan Ferley and set designer Bill Layton have created an immersive and dynamic stage setting that enables the viewer to travel between the home-based events and external scenes naturally. The cast cleverly aids the transitions – not only between indoor and outdoor, but also between Ralphie’s reality and fantasy. The stage is dominated by an interior view of the Parker household, focusing on the kitchen, the living room, and a second floor representing Ralphie’s bedroom. Yet, despite the dominance of the home-focused set, transitions to school, playgrounds, department stores, and even into the car never seem forced or out of place.
In the film, the transitions and story line is advanced through the use of the narrator. The stage production cleverly integrates the elder Ralph into the story. Steve Ross is by far the highlight of the production, expertly moving the story forward, interacting and narrating with an easy, comforting cadence, and effortlessly slipping into ancillary roles to support the production. Sarah Machin Gale and Matthew Olver are also outstanding in their role as mother and father. Amongst the youth actors, Hunter Burgess absolutely steals every scene that he’s in as the hard-done-to Flick.
In general Callum Thompson succeeds in the role of Ralphie Parker, effectively embodying the mannerisms and behaviours of young Ralphie extremely well. However, at times Thompson’s dialogue became hard to understand. While the message of the story still came through, there were frequent times when the words got lost.
At 2:05, including a 15-minute intermission, A Christmas Story moves along at brisk and entertaining pace. Across the board, the performances are both familiar and entertaining and The Grand`s production of A Christmas Story is a welcome gift to the Forest City this holiday season.
A Christmas Story
By Jean Shepherd, adapted by Philip Grecian
Steve Ross as Ralph
Callum Thompson as Ralphie Parker
Matthew Olver as The Old Man
Sarah Machin Gale as Mother
Nov. 24 – Dec. 30
The Grand Theatre