This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
Writers: Mike Ockrent & Lynn Ahrens
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens
Director: Lee Greenaway
Reviewer: Alice McGuigan
The Public Reviews Rating:
“Isn’t it nice that once again it’s Christmas Eve?” chime the joyous ensemble in the opening track A Jolly Good Time. This sentiment could not lie further from the man who hates Christmas. Selfish and bitter, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who show him his Christmas past, present, and future. Since he first gave birth to the phrase in 1843, “Bah humbug” remains Scrooge’s most popular line in this UK premier of A Christmas Carol, the musical, based on Charles Dickens’ classic tale.
There are few surprises in store as director (Lee Greenaway) and Costume Designer (Anna Saunders) take a relatively traditional approach to the story. Scrooge is still a snowy-haired man, wearing white pyjamas and a floppy nightcap. The ghost of Christmas past has fairy lights under her dress, the ghost of Christmas present wears a joker’s hat and the ghost of Christmas Future is a hunched, cloaked figure. These are all familiar interpretations. It is the music itself that gives the show its amusing and heart-warming edge. Many of Menken’s catchy tunes, most notably Link by Link, continue to dingdong after the show, while the concealed orchestra tenderly recite his softer melodies.
The bare, gloomy set and minimal use of props both make way for Greenaway’s ambitious choreography. Occasionally the stage is overcrowded causing the movements to become clumsy. A row of trays are nearly knocked over by the pivoting dance centre stage during Mr Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball. However, the majority of the staging is slick and well rehearsed. Greenaway proves that, despite the small space, squeezing the whole cast into each routine evokes a powerful and larger-than-life atmosphere one might expect from bigger venues. This is particularly impressive when Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge. Gathered in tight a semi-circle, the ensemble attaches chains to each other simulating puppet strings. They clatter synchronously throughout the routine.
The ensemble is brimming with energy throughout the entire show. Everyone is strong vocally, but Grace Osborn, both in her role as Emily and as the Ghost of Christmas Past, sings her renditions with distinct gracefulness. Lydia Grant as Mrs Fezziwig also stands out with her well-timed one-liners. She causes the audience to burst into laughter on numerous occasions. Aside from the ensemble, Andrew Macbean’s interpretation of Scrooge is understated and sympathetic. His slow movements and deep groaning voice humorously isolate him from the rest of the cheery ensemble, who are singing and moving in harmony.
Lighting designer, Miguel Vicente, brings the minimalistic gothic set to life as shadows and silhouettes tower against the grey brick walls in the background. The simple use of the smoke and snow machines also powerfully shift the atmosphere on stage between its eerie and cheery settings. It is a shame the fireplace did not light up properly and created some awkward entrances and exits for the three ghosts, but that was a minor flaw considering the overall fast-pace of the show.
Ending the show with Scrooge gallivanting around, Tiny Tim on his back, was one of several moments that were borderline cheesy. Nonetheless, it manages to get most of the audience into the Christmas spirit, its light-hearted charm meeting a standing ovation.