A WONDERHEADS CHRISTMAS CAROL
Where: Various venues, including the Mary Winspear Centre and the McPherson Playhouse
When: Wednesday, Dec. 14, through Friday, Dec. 23
Tickets: tickets.marywinspear.ca or rmts.bc.ca
Thirteen performances in nine venues over a three-week period amounts to the biggest tour ever for Wonderheads Theatre co-creators Kate Braidwood and Andrew Phoenix.
A trek of such magnitude has been a long time coming, according to Braidwood. “The hope when we started out with A Wonderheads Christmas Carol in 2019 was to slowly grow the production. But nothing happened [due to the pandemic] in 2020, and in 2021 we couldn’t do a large tour because of how unstable things were. This year feels like our first chance to really go for it.”
The tour continues Wednesday in Sidney at the Mary Winspear Centre, before moving to the McPherson Playhouse for performances Friday (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) and the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre on Sunday. The tour continues next week with shows at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River on Dec. 21 and at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo on Dec. 23.
That nearly every seat on their in-progress A Wonderheads Christmas Carol tour has been sold suggests increasingly larger runs are on the horizon for the Victoria couple, whose full-face papier-mâché masks and risk-taking choreography and puppetry has placed them among the leading live performance creators in the province. A Wonderheads Christmas Carol is one of several productions created by Braidwood and Phoenix — The Wilds, Grim and Fischer, LOON and The Middle of Everywhere are the others — but the troupe’s dialogue-free adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic is by far their biggest and boldest production.
It requires a mix of styles and form, from the use of larval masks pioneered by French theatre icon Jacques Lecoq and widely creative sound design to implementing puppets standing up to 12 feet in height. To help bring iconic A Christmas Carol characters Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Mr. Fezziwig to life, Braidwood and Phoenix are joined by cast members Jessica Hickman, Pedro M. Siqueira and Sarah Robertson and three crew members. Every person associated with the production, including Braidwood, who stars as Scrooge, and Phoenix, who directs, wears multiple hats — which means A Wonderheads Christmas Carol succeeds by committee.
“It’s definitely evolved over a few years,” Braidwood said. “It’s exciting to be able to continue to shape it and tweak it and make content and design changes.”
It generally takes three years to create a new stand-alone production, due in part to the laborious nature of the masks; their easiest path forward as a company is to tweak what already exists, Phoenix said. The Wilds is currently under revision, with a newly upgraded version set to be rolled out next year. “Our set design will be upped a level from what it was for A Christmas Carol, with a stop-motion background creating this magical world,” Phoenix said.
The fanciful nature of the Wonderheads universe is well-suited to the world of Dickens, whose Victorian-era stories and characters come alive under the guise of the mask-wearing cast. With the seasonal aspect as a hook, the success of A Wonderheads Christmas Carol always made perfect sense to Braidwood. “Our work as Wonderheads is already quite whimsical and magical, but it being applied to the holiday season and the A Christmas Carol story is a really good pairing.”