R.H. Thomson as Matthew Cuthbert in Anne With an E. Photo courtesy R.H. Thomson

Actor sees similarities between Dickens’ age and today

By 
  • December 10, 2021

Celebrated Canadian actor Robert Holmes (R.H.) Thomson is about to step back into his element after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

Thomson is touring a solo version of the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol in theatres across Ontario this Christmas season. The actor will breathe life into every character in this production, from Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge. He will be supported by the musical talents of fiddler Sarah Shugarman, as well as the Freeplay a capella duo of Dylan Bell and Suba Sankaran.

When Thomson debuts on the stage of the Capitol Centre in North Bay, Ont., Dec. 12, he will be performing in front of a live audience for the first time since COVID-19 emerged nearly 21 months ago.

“To hear musicians, live, is like a tonic for the soul, man,” said Thomson. “And to be with people as we tell stories, instead of through these portals we call our screens, is joyful.”

Thomson’s tour will take him beyond North Bay will take him to theatres in Oakville, Richmond Hill, Brantford, Chatham and Picton up until Dec. 23.

A great fan of Dickens’ writing, Thomson wants to evoke the spirit of Dickens when the famous British writer performed reading tours throughout North America in the 19th century.

Performing this material also invites the 2010 Order of Canada appointee to connect with the Christmas’ of his childhood.

“I was kind of brought up on this story every Christmas when I was five, six and seven. We would get out the long-playing record and we would listen to A Christmas Carol being read by, I think, Ronald Colman, along with A Child’s Christmas in Wales recorded by the poet Dylan Thomas,” he said.

“I think the play of A Christmas Carol has always been exciting and interesting to me in its basic, empathetic idea of humanity at its core. You also got to see the result of unfettered greed, not only on the culture around you, but also on who you are as an individual. The spirit of empathy and compassion must triumph in the end.”

Thomson recalled the play “resurfacing in full force” in the 1990s when the food banks, around Toronto particularly, experienced great demand.

“The gulf between rich and poor was — and is — getting wider and wider,” he said. “There were fundraiser performances for food banks where you would have 600 people in the audience, and all proceeds would go towards raising food bank money.”

Now, in 2021, Thomson says the play is as relevant as ever as income inequality has reached the same high levels in society that compelled Dickens to put goose quill pen to paper in the first place.

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol to respond to that income inequality, so it’s very appropriate we do (the play) now.”

Thomson shared some of A Christmas Carol’s final lines that illustrated Scrooge’s transformation from heartless money lender to a man who “became as good a friend, as good a master and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town or borough, in the good old world.”

Thomson said with a chuckle, “I wish I could take that into some of the boardrooms in the cities of North America and say, ‘Come on.’ ”

Thomson, who at 74 shows no signs of slowing down, earned Gemini Awards recognition in his younger days for the television-movie about Dr. Frederick Banting Glory Enough for All (1988), and for portraying Will Sly in the Canadian feature film If You Could See What I Hear (1982), on top of numerous nominations. The acclaim has continued to this day as he won a Canadian Screen Award in 2018 for his supporting work as Matthew Cuthbert in CBC’s Anne of Green Gables adaptation Anne with an E.

He’s excited about the future, especially if there are no more COVID-19 lockdowns, and has just completed shooting a short feature film called The Last Curlew.

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