Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin based upon the New Line Cinema film written by David Berenbaum
Michael Rose for Elf The Musical Ltd in association with Bord Cais Energy Theatre (a Theatre Royal Plymouth production)
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Ben Forster and Ensemble

As a curmudgeonly "there are 12 days of Christmas—all in December" party pooper, it irks me to say that Elf, feted as "a modern classic", does warm a few cockles and plants the ‘C’ word deep into the psyche.

Back in Plymouth (where it premièred in 2014) after a sell-out West End run, packed auditoriums, elf hats and standing ovations bear testament to the nation’s appetite for all that is glitz, showbiz and, ahem, Christmassy. Even in mid-November.

Heavily sugar-coated and with somewhat infectious infantile humour (and a few rather smutty innuendos), Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan’s book grabs the best lines from the hit 2003 Will Ferrell film and adds a jazzy, forgettable score (a happy marriage of lyricist Chad Beguelin and composer Matthew Sklar) played live (always a bonus). With Tim Goodchild’s colourful, swift-change sets, cartoonish costuming and magical flying sleigh, Elf has all the ingredients for a festive fun family outing.

Irrepressible Ben Forster does a more than competent job of filling Ferrell’s curled-toe pixie boots as the effervescent Buddy who has spent the best part of 30 years eating syrup, making snow angels and ineptly manufacturing toys (except for wind turbines it would seem) and ignoring the fact he is twice as tall as his fellow elves.

A cold dose of non-seasonal hard truth reveals him as having crawled unseen into Santa’s sack during the annual visit to a New York orphanage one Christmas Eve and Old FC (and convivial Louis Emerick) has been harbouring him up North ever since. No sooner than the truth be told then Buddy is thrust onto an iceberg headed to the disbelieving New York city armed with just a snow globe of the Empire State Building and his (unwitting) father’s name.

So, with Christmas looming large, follows Crocodile Dundee / George of the Jungle-esque shenanigans of the naïf in the city magnified by elfish exuberance and mixed with the less-than-subtle search for work-family balance and the misplaced waning belief in St Nick. Bah very small humbug.

Joe McGann is a superbly grumpy—and surprisingly mellifluous—reluctant father, not making much of a job of parenting his 12-year-old son (a charming James Allen on the night but shared on tour with Lochlan and Riley White and Charlie Birtwistle) and slowly sinking in the cut-throat, all-absorbing world of children’s book publishing. Hungarian harridan with the lindy bop moves, secretary Deb (Lori Haley Fox) and long-suffering wife (Jessica Martin) help deliver redemption and his ultimate escape from the naughty list.

Atomic Kitten Liz McClarnon is a believable Jovie, the disillusioned love interest with a perverted penchant for off-the-wall impish behaviour and pointy hats, while Graham Lappin makes a welcome return to the role of crabby Store Manager full of corporate obsequiousness rather than festive cheer.

A tremendous Ensemble excels in director and choreographer Morgan Young’s tight Busby Berkeley-style tap and razzmatazz complete with jazz hands and harmonies, populates the metropolis with passers-by, skaters, miserable, out-of-work Santas and myriad employees, and provides the funniest spectacle of the night on shod knees as hard-working, bickering North Pole elves.

One-dimensional, obvious, flashy, frothy and substance-less it may be but, I must admit, it is a sleighful of fun and thoroughly enjoyed by my young companion.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

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