“Nothing less than an anthem to human nature, to imagination, and to the wonder of a compelling story told by a wondrous storyteller.”
THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Playing the titular Jacob Marley, actor Colin McPhillamy gets
ready to scare Scrooge. (Photo courtesy of Justin Namon)
REVIEW OF ‘JACOB MARLEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL’:
A CAPTIVATING ONE-MAN PERFORMANCE IN A HEARTWARMING PRODUCTION
Posted By Christine Dolen Artburst Miami
December 7, 2021 at 7:06 PM
Since time immemorial, theater has been a storytelling art form. Just now, a potent and sometimes poignant reminder of that truth is onstage in Miami at the Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater, where “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” is running through Dec. 19, 2021.
City Theatre’s production of the play by Tom Mula stars actor Colin McPhillamy in 18 distinct roles: that of the title character as well as a host of others from the 1843 Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.”
Although a short intermission affords him a wee break (as his Scottish-accented character, Bogle, might put it), the British actor spends nearly two hours doing the theatrical equivalent of running a marathon. The solo show tests the stamina, skills and interpretive invention of even the most experienced performer, but the captivating McPhillamy quickly immerses the audience in his version of a beloved holiday tale.
Playwright Mula’s wrinkle is to share the Dickens story from the perspective of Jacob Marley, the late business partner to Ebenezer Scrooge. Marley, though dead, appears in “A Christmas Carol,” of course, but here he’s the star of the show.
Dealing with the Record Keeper, an embodiment of everlasting fate, Marley gets a final chance to avoid going straight to hell. He’ll have 24 hours to get the old skinflint to repent, to change Scrooge’s heart. Otherwise, he’s doomed.
Accompanying Marley on his fool’s errand is the Bogle, a tiny troublemaker of a spirit. He’s impishly portrayed by McPhillamy, who glues his upper arms to each side, rapidly flapping his hands as though they were miniature wings.
Using his malleable voice, movement and facial expressions, McPhillamy shifts instantly from Marley to Scrooge, evoking scenes from “A Christmas Carol.” Likewise, he becomes a Cockney kid as the Ghost of Christmas Past, a warm presence as the Ghost of Christmas Present, a frightening figure as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
In theater, bringing even the best solo storytelling to life takes a village, and McPhillamy has an impressive group of collaborators.
Artistic director Margaret M. Ledford has helped the actor to define and clarify each character, precisely differentiating the emotional moods of the script. Sometimes, she has him scurry over the faux stone steps and ramps of Norma Castillo O’Hep’s nostalgic set. She has him dip into a trunk to pull out the chains Marley forged in life, then brings him briefly to rest behind a podium or a small table.
Matt Corey’s soundscape is a vital part of the production, serving up church bells, a swirling wind or a closing door at precisely the right time. Likewise, Eric Nelson’s lighting helps define location shifts, and his tight green-lit focus on Marley’s face as the old man begins his terrorizing of Scrooge is priceless. Though multiple costume changes aren’t possible with the lightning pace of McPhillamy’s character transformations, designer Ellis Tillman simply and effectively suggests the Victorian era with one look and several add-on pieces.
At a matinee over the weekend, McPhillamy’s often spell-binding performance was interrupted a number of times as audience members – sometimes several people at a time – decided that they just had to walk out right then for a bathroom break or a snack or maybe because they got tired of listening to an artist telling them a story. Trouble is, beyond that rudeness, leaving the Carnival Studio Theater mid-performance is a noisy proposition, as the theatergoer thumps down the audience riser, then click-clacks over the wooden floor to the exit door.
The actor, the heartwarming production and your fellow audience members deserve better.
Meet Colin McPhillamy
On graduating from the Central School in London, Colin’s first professional engagement was at the well-known but very remote Little Theatre on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. The theatre was founded and run by husband and wife Barrie and Marianne Hesketh MBE (Member of the British Empire). In the theatre’s 20 year history they had performed small cast versions of Shakespeare plays, and many other classics from Oscar Wilde to Strindberg. Colin was engaged for his solo version of Shakespeare’s Henry V in which he fought two battles with himself playing both the French and English armies. On returning to London Colin was out of work for almost an entire calendar year, so he turned to painting and decorating as a day job and there are many houses in north-west London where he wielded a paintbrush. Finally he was cast as Herbert Pocket in a production of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens at London’s Old Vic Theatre. From that time on he managed to find steady employment regionally in the UK, in the West End and in touring productions, visiting at different times, Greece, Israel, Germany, and Holland. During the 1990s with young children to support he also began to write plays and short stories. In those days one of the largest markets for new writing was BBC Radio and many British writers had beginning there. Colin’s work was nominated for the Prix Italia, and the Writers’ Guild Comedy Award. His books are available at Amazon.
In 1999 Colin appeared at The Edinburgh Festival with a solo piece of his own, The Tree House, for which he was nominated Best Actor. He returned to New York where he had been living for the past year. In 2000 he was cast in Waiting in the Wings. He played (what he likes to think of as “the small but crucial role”) of 2nd St. John’s Ambulance Man. He also understudied Simon Jones, taking over the role of Perry for almost a month when Simon was called back to England, thus Colin played opposite Rosemary Harris and Lauren Bacall - he has a Parisienne story about Ms Bacall.
It was in Waiting in the Wings that Colin met Patricia Conolly. Through their Australian connection they struck up a friendship which progressed into a liaison then to a romance, then to a partnership and finally a marriage.
Patricia has appeared on Broadway more times than any living Australian
and is currently playing Mrs Dubose inTo Kill a Mockingbird at The Shubert Theatre on 44th Street in New York.
Colin is delighted to have had the good fortune to work many times in Florida, including several times in very happy collaboration with Margaret Ledford. Even though he practices the mantic art of astrology, his Florida resume was something completely unforeseen in his younger years!