Now in its fifth year, Three Ships Collective/Soup Can Theatre’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol has become a tradition so wildly popular that it’s been sold out for weeks. It’s a slam dunk of an idea, an immersive Christmas Carol staged throughout a historic 1822 home, but the company never leans on the concept to float the overall quality of the production. At every level, from the writing to the direction to the performers to the incredibly complex stage management track run expertly by Scotia Cox, this Christmas Carol is as thoughtfully and lovingly rendered as the best of the story’s myriad adaptations.


At the heart of the production is Justin Haigh’s superb script that embraces the heart of Dickens’ story and happily casts aside every ounce of dated or superfluous action in favour of bold invention and insightful re-contextualizing. He’s invented new characters (the lovely Briony Merritt plays Lydia Berryman whose encounter with a pre-ghosted Scrooge provides sharp definition to the archetypical character) and completely changed existing ones (Scrooge’s father, here played with calm kindness by John Fray who doubles as a joyful Fred, isn’t his usual casually cruel self but rather a heartbreaking cautionary tale whose story lends if not empathy at least explanation to Scrooge’s nature). Even with works firmly in the public domain, it’s rare to see a classic so completely broken down off its pedestal and mined for new meaning. Haigh dares take the most famous line away from its famous speaker and he boldly disrupts the final act’s overwhelming merriment to allow for a tender, unexpected scene of gratitude that left me sobbing like a baby during the finale singalong. Witty but never over-written, Haigh’s script shows great trust in his collaborators, unafraid of leaving a thought unspoken if it can be communicated through a gesture.


That trust is well-earned, both by Haigh’s longtime artistic partner Sare Thorpe whose direction makes brilliant use of space and tonal contrast, and by the fantastic cast that ranges from newcomers to Thomas Gough who has been their Scrooge from the very beginning. Gough won our Critics’ Pick Award for this role in the 2018 iteration and his 2023 performance is every bit as striking. His Scrooge is calm and cold, more callous than menacing, and his transition in the final act reflects that nature in a far more believable way than most versions of the character. Gough greets Christmas morning with guilt and restrained hope rather than bombast, a far sadder and more poignant choice.


Following Gough’s lead, Will Carr is a brilliant Young Ebenezer, softer and more earnest than his older counterpart but completely recognizable as the same man. The way Justine Christensen’s lively and honest Belle pierces Carr’s quiet self consciousness in their first scene together then fails to reach him in their second is some of the most compelling partner work I’ve seen in a long time.


The ever-reliable Jesse Nerenberg steps into the role of Bob Cratchit with nuance and tenderness, affectingly brave-facing for his kids while his own heart visibly breaks, and Alyzia Inès Fabregui pitches her Tiny Tim beautifully to avoid that character’s sometimes cloying cuteness. Jonnie Lombard is a mischievous but steadying Christmas Present and a menacing Yet to Come while the love and joy in Luke Marty and Renisha Henry’s performances as Mr & Mrs Fezziwig provide harsh and necessary contrast to the sadness the production isn’t afraid to embrace throughout the rest of the story. Nicholas Eddie as Jacob Marley is the lone cast member who struggles with or rather seems to sidestep the British accent but his unique presence and commanding voice are perfect tone-setters as he serves as the audience’s guide through the house.


The production uses the beauty of each specific space within Campbell House to create extraordinary production values without elaborate builds, leaving more resources for Rose Tavormina’s excellent costume work (the Marley aesthetic is particularly impactful), which is crucial considering the intimacy of the staging. Any technical equipment is well hidden to maintain the immersive illusion and the show even includes original music by Pratik Gandhi though, with a cast member doubling as the violin player, the quality of the playing leaves a little to be desired.


For years, I’ve edited other critics’ reviews of the Campbell House Christmas Carol, all raves, and somehow still managed to underestimate it. I assumed the crowd-pleasing moniker was a reflection of the strength of the core concept, professionally executed, with a noteworthy leading performance from a very consistent performer. But what I found when I finally got to see Three Ships/Soup Can’s work for myself was more than just a beautifully cast, smartly directed production. It’s a bold adaptation unafraid of its source material, ready to reckon with the past in order to illuminate the present and even, perhaps, what’s yet to come.