Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Scrooge - Palace Theatre, Manchester

Based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Adaptor: Leslie Bricusse
Music/Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse
Director: Bob Tomson
Reviewer: Jimmy Hardwick

Surely few stories have entered our national consciousness as deeply as Charles Dickens' classic 1843 novella 'A Christmas Carol'. From its first readings given by the author himself the book has spawned numerous plays, films and poor sitcom plots; in fact it was one of the first film adaptations being filmed in 1910 and now in 2009 a Christmas film staring, believe it or not, Jim Carrey. So it was with a sense of happy familiarly that an audience of all ages settled down to enjoy a performance of Leslie Bricusse's adaptation on a suitably Dickensian, foggy night.

The plot of 'A Christmas Carol' is familiar to all English speakers and remains one of the simplest and satisfying in all literature. Yet its ubiquitousness should not blind us to Dickens' skill and pacing. It speaks to our deep desire for the possibility of change, even in the worst of us. Throw in a foggy London town and street urchins and we have what must be the stereotypical English Christmas. Bricusse's adaptation stays very close to the text and structure of the book while his songs are mostly simple, elegant tunes.

Paul Farnsworth's set design fits perfectly with the plays understated and authentic feel. Mercifully free of too much London fog, the lighting (Nick Richings) keeps a minor but ever present feel of danger. A technical problem with Scrooge's work desk (probably too tight to buy a good one) necessitated a five minute break and a repeat of an earlier scene. Yet the set and lighting helps tells the story without ever calling attention to itself, a notable feat.

Tommy Steele's excellent Ebenezer Scrooge is, in many ways, more a grouchy grandfather then the embodiment of the evil capitalist Dickens painted. But for me, Steele pitches it just right for this production. He is naturally funny as well, a few well timed faces to the audiences brought great laughs, while his voice is, naturally for a former pop superstar, excellent; he is a great pivot for the rest of the cast.

Highlights in the large ensemble include Helcro Johnston's exuberant Mr Fezziwig, James Head's even more exuberant Ghost of Christmas Present and Harrison Shoemark as a angelic Tiny Tim. Special mention must go, however, to Craig Whiteley and Abigail Jaye as young Scrooge and his unfortunate fiancée Isabella. Parts that could easily become sentimental are played with wonderfully understated and believable emotion.

Bob Tomson's production has perhaps sacrificed some of the fear of the original ghost story for a more family friendly play. That is not a criticism, this is after all an adaptation, and there are still some genuine shocks and bangs to be enjoyed (perhaps too much for the very young). As the audience filed out at the end of the play there was a distinct Christmassy, uplifted feeling. It was almost enough to make this reviewer exclaim “God bless us every one!”...Almost.

Runs until Sat 14th Nov
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