It's that time of year when panto frocks are dusted off, men dress as women and vice versa, and there's a general sense that the theatrical world has gone slightly mad. In some cases, the festive season can lead to grotesque excesses. But with this production, the creative team have drawn on all their creative skills whilst maintaining their grip on reality and professionalism to produce a well-crafted and hugely entertaining show.
Perhaps the best-loved of all Christmas productions is Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', adapted here by Phil Willmott. And it's an inventive adaptation which gives a novel twist to the story, while safeguarding all our favourite bits in a way that honours the intentions of the original.
The action is already in swing when we enter the auditorium. The setting is the George Tavern where the locals are in celebratory mood. Enter Charles Dickens, who's anxious to track down his publisher to persuade him to publish his new work. Pressed by the writer, the publisher agrees to publish the book if Dickens can impress the assembled company with his story. Now acting as narrator, Dickens guides us through the story which more or less sticks with the original. So, we encounter the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, and meet the Cratchits as well as the characters from Scrooge's past.
The central role of Scrooge is a difficult one to play. But Jonathan Battersby makes it look simple. The epitome of miserliness when we meet him, he makes the transition to jolly philanthropist in a style that is both convincing and moving. When all the ghosts have had their say, Battersby's Scrooge is like a child in a sweet shop, not knowing just where to begin his new life. Nigel Lister's exuberant Dickens keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, and Adam Stone provides fatherly sincerity as Bob Cratchit. And there's fine support from the rest of the well-drilled and focused ensemble cast.
Since this is a musical version of 'A Christmas Carol' the focus inevitably falls on the quality of the songs as well as the singing. Though I'm not sure just how memorable the songs are, they're more than good enough to enhance the action, and all the songs appropriately capture and describe the mood of each scene. The quality of the singing is excellent throughout with fine individual voices which combine to form a rousing and vibrant chorus as the occasion demands. The musicians double-up as characters, embedding the music in the action in a style we've seen before and used to good effect in other musicals. And here it's both appropriate from a logistical point of view, given the intimate space, and the need to create cohesion.
I'm often disappointed with choreography in musicals, but thankfully not here. Choreographer Racky Plews has injected inventive vigour into the dance routines in this show which lifts and enhances the action considerably. And it's all the more remarkable given the tight space and the number of characters involved.
I have to confess a degree of bias. For me, 'A Christmas Carol' is Christmas in a very real sense, so I feel rather protective towards it. There's no need to worry in this case because the creative vision recognises the timeless quality of the story and has preserved and even enhanced it's magic. If you're looking for something to take the kids to over the festive season, you'd be hard pushed to find something better than 'A Christmas Carol'. And if you love the story as much as I do, you might even want to pop along even if you don't have any little ones to entertain. Excellent festive fare.