Irish Repertory Theatre’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales by the brilliant Dylan Thomas, adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore hits the spot for Christmas loveliness and grace. An old-time favorite of Irish Repertory Theatre, this is the sixth version they have produced since their first adaptation in 2002 of A Celtic Christmas. Thanks to Charlotte Moore’s prodigious dramatic talents this is one of the most heartwarming, elegant and memorable of versions and I’ve seen a few. Perhaps it is because of its simplicity as a chamber musical, which features poignant songs written by Charlotte Moore, and the favorite traditional carols of the season, one receives a new appreciation of Christmas. Its vitality in bringing together a community that greatly longs to erase thoughts of separation that have characterized the past few years, cannot be underestimated.
For this production of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, the stage is flanked with tall, stalwart looking Christmas trees uniformly lit against a mirrored background which adds to the stage width and depth, thanks to John Lee Beatty’s set design. There are even large presents tucked away in a back corner on the left side of the stage continuation. The light reflections, and nuanced lighting (Michael Gottlieb) softly enhance the six singers. These include Kerry Conte, Ali Ewoldt, Jay Aubrey Jones, Kylie Kuioka, Ashley Robinson and Reed Lancaster, who was covering for Dan Macke the night I saw the production.
The trees in their arrangement are an excellent choice not only for their placement but for their symbolism representative of Christ and Christianity. The fir tree was widely adopted during the Victorian Age after a picture of Queen Victoria, German Prince Albert and their family appeared in Illustrated London News. Queen Victoria was so popular that the public became enamored of the royal family standing around the decorated, tall, fir tree. They clamored to make it fashionable, cutting down their own trees or purchasing them from vendors after demanding them. Certainly, the historic Christmas captured by Thomas’ gorgeously poetic language seems best ringing out the holiday season with the trees as a evergreen, mythic backdrop.
The music supervision by John Bell and music direction by David Hancock Turner are impeccable. I particularly enjoyed the carols I hadn’t heard in a long while, the traditional ones like “A-Soaling” (Hey, Ho, Nobody Home), “I Don’t Want a Lot for Christmas” and the humorous “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake.” There are songs sung in Welsh “Tawel Nos” (“Silent Night”) which moves to a beautiful segue of “O Holy Night.” And I was surprised to discover that “Deck the Halls,” All Through the Night” and “Suo Gan” are traditional Welsh songs.
I felt an otherworldly appreciation of the carols and live music and singing arranged with thoughtfulness and joy. Thoma’s clever and poignant remembrances narrated with every attention to his incredible wordcraft by the ensemble remind us of a romantic past that we all long for. I am so sick and tired of the canned, artificial music signaling commercialism and grasping greed as it pipes over the loudspeakers of big box stores and various establishments. I do hope this chamber musical was recorded. Its one-of-a-kind exceptionalism in its celebration of a historic time before cell phones, mass media, television and the complications of what at times seems like overwhelming chaos, is bar none.
What was another pleasant surprise were the songs “Take My Hand, Tomorrow’s Christmas,” “Open Your Eyes,” and “Walking in the Snow.” The music and lyrics are Charlotte Moore’s and they appropriately threaded throughout the 75 minute presentation among Thomas’ memories that speak of childhood innocence, frankness (in his recall of the quirky aunts and uncles) and sense of security and safety embraced by a loving family. His work is a milestone and thankfully Irish Repertory Theatre has shared its immutable glory with us, reminding us of family, friends, love, community, history and the meaning of such vital themes that strengthen our lives.
David Toser’s costume design are befitting of the fashionable stylishness of a lovely holiday party where everyone is shining in their finery like their own decorated Christmas trees. In this “never to be forgotten day at the end of the unremembered year” Thomas’ snowy Christmas Day in Wales at the Irish Repertory Theatre is a stunner whose nostalgia is all the more affecting now that Christmas has passed.
See it before it closes. For tickets and times go to their website: https://irishrep.org/show/2022-2023-season/a-childs-christmas-in-wales-4/