Friday 24 November 2017

Scrooge the Musical

Curve, Leicester
23rd November, 2017

I was brought up on The Muppet Christmas Carol, and my sister’s favourite winter watch is the 1999 TV movie with Patrick Stewart. My point is that A Christmas Carol has become synonymous with the festive period, a classic tale for which families worldwide flock together to watch and re-watch with yuletide glee every year, and like me and my sister, everyone has their favourite version. So what better way for Curve to kick off their winter season than with Leslie Bricusse’s 1992 adaptation, Scrooge the Musical? The story alone is a guaranteed family-friendly hit, and it’s lovely to see an annual Christmas show which is actually, you know, Christmassy (there’s snow and everything!).

I wasn’t previously familiar with Bricusse’s show (he’s responsible for the book, music and lyrics), and, with theatre credits including Victor/Victoria and Jekyll and Hyde, I’m going to guess that Scrooge perhaps isn’t the finest example of his work. The music is nice, but forgettable, and Bricusse’s lyrics leave a little to be desired. Lines such as ‘happiness is a high hill, will I find it? yes I will’ and ‘I like life, life likes me’ are reminiscent of the Barney & Friends ‘I love you’ song* in their mawkish simplicity (*for those who don’t know it: ‘I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family…’) and I can only assume the repetitiveness in the Fezziwig song is due to a lack of words that rhyme with ‘December the twenty-fifth’. Occasionally it seems as if Bricusse is partaking in a competition to find the most ways of saying ‘Christmas’ – with varying levels of success. In a hit-and-miss score, the undoubted showstopper is the Lionel Bart-esque ‘Thank You Very Much’, which is every bit the Dickensian knees-up you’d expect (including the obligatory tap dance break; the twist here being it is performed atop a coffin!) – although this morning when I try to hum the song all I can muster is its melodic resemblance to ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner’.

While I have reservations about the musical itself, I can’t fault Nikolai Foster’s production or the performance of the cast, who put their all into Stephen Mear’s lively, ensemble led choreography and sing their hearts out with gusto. Jasper Britton brings creditable gravitas to Ebenezer in a tour-de-force performance. Scrooge’s soulful transition from wicked miser into charitable do-gooder is marked in Britton’s wonderfully expressive face; the same eyes which once mercilessly penetrated his debtors glisten with tears of joy come the picture-postcard finale. Elsewhere, Danny-Boy Hatchard brings a satisfying dose of east end revelry to proceedings and is evidently having a ball during his big moment, ‘Thank You Very Much’. And if Anton Stephan’s Ghost of Christmas Present is a bit of a scattergun pantomime, then that just adds to the charm. I also had to smile at the little detail of Marley’s (Karen Mann) chain-smoking Phantom henchmen – the lesson? ‘don’t smoke, kids, or you’ll go straight to hell!’

Curve have really outdone themselves with this production, creating their biggest, most lavish show yet. Michael Taylor’s set transports us to Dickensian London, complete with laundry lines and greying odds and ends that wouldn’t look out of place in a rag-and-bone wagon. Scenes seamlessly shift from Scrooge’s office, to his bedroom, the local highstreet (there’s a lovely array of shops, from butchers, to bakers and toymakers), and even a graveyard. Taylor’s set is magnificent in being totally engrossing, filling the enormous stage admirably, while never appearing superfluous or imposing – everything has its place and use. Likewise, Ben Cracknell provides a masterclass in how lighting is integral to creating atmosphere. Scrooge’s loneliness is brought to the fore by secluding him from the surrounding darkness: creeping shadows are magnified around his bedroom, and silvery mists chill to the bone. Cracknell’s skillful design allows Scott Penrose’s illusions (vanishing spirits, dancing candles) to shine, bringing a little magic to these cold winter nights.

Foster and company have demonstrated the communal aspect of theatre making as Scrooge epitomises how the contributions of creatives, company, and crew all come together to produce something of celebratory proportions. Yes, the story is a little sanctimonious and sentimental, but even my icy heart melted when Tiny Tim finally got his toy carousel, and while the music is not the most striking of its genre, it’s perfectly pleasant and undeniably Christmassy. Children and adults alike cannot fail to exit the theatre without feeling a little extra festive cheer this year.

Scrooge the Musical plays at Curve until 7th January, 2018.
Jasper Britton as Ebenezer Scrooge and the cast of Scrooge the Musical. Credit: Pamela Raith

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