Entertainment Local

Dickens in the Downtown Eastside

By Brian Paterson

Margo Kane from her production of Bah! Humbug! (Handout)

Margo Kane from her production of Bah! Humbug! (Handout)

Of all the tales we tell at this time of year, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the finest: a deeply human story of redemption; a reminder that compassion, generosity, and joy can transform both ourselves and the world around us.

Perhaps this is why it has enjoyed so many interpretations. We’ve seen Scrooge and company spring to life as Muppets, Disney cartoons, a disturbing CGI Jim Carrey, and countless more.

Here in Vancouver, a dream team of Eastside artists have given the story a uniquely local spin with ‘Bah! Humbug!’ Running until Dec. 17 at SFU Woodwards, the annual family-friendly musical production recasts Scrooge as the sushi-loving owner of an East Hastings pawnshop.

“I think there are similar societal problems [in Vancouver,] to those in London during Dickens’ time,” said Margo Kane, who has been Bah! Humbug!’s narrator since its inaugural production seven years ago. “There are a lot of people on the fringes of society; a lot of people in less than desirable economic positions. There are forces at play making it a struggle for many to survive and provide.”

While Bah! Humbug! is an ultimately uplifting and joyous experience, it does not shy away from acknowledging the issues of addiction, housing, and poverty that are present within the Downtown Eastside.

Kane, who is also Artistic Director of Full Circle: First Nations Performance, explained the work also pays deep homage to the neighborhood’s unceded ancestry. In this production, Scrooge’s three ghostly visitors are Coast Salish spirits buried beneath concrete and asphalt, and Tiny Tim’s crutch is an exquisite work of First Nations carving.

“The Indigenous knowledge that’s embedded in this version is that we have to take care of each other,” Kane said. “The show begins with a Coast Salish anthem that is from Chief Dan George’s family. It opens with a sense of offering that honours the territory.”

The anthem is one of 25 songs featured throughout the show, ranging from traditional Christmas carols to surprising tracks by Buffy-Sainte Marie and Nine Inch Nails. The music is borne aloft by the voices of the Saint James Music Academy Choir, gospel singer Tom Pickett, and Canadian blues icon Jim Byrnes – who also plays the central role of Scrooge.

The songs and story are further amplified by the contributions of celebrated visual artist Richard Tetrault. The renowned Eastside muralist brings the city to the stage through colourful animations of iconic locations.

When asked about why she feels A Christmas Carol has become such a frequently adapted staple, Kane became nostalgic.

“When I was a child growing up, I used to sit and watch the black and white Alastair Sim film with my mother and father every Christmas,” she reminisced.

“I loved the story. I still know every word. I think it stays with us because it taps into our universal longing for people to wake up, see the light, and respect one another,” Kane continued.

“Scrooge’s incredible transformation from darkness into light is one that we never believed could happen.

“This fills us with hope. Because if [Scrooge] can be changed – so can anyone. So can we.”

Bah! Humbug! runs until Dec. 17 at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Tickets & info at sfuwoodwards.ca.