Book, music & lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Based on the story A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Palace Theatre, Manchester
After pantomimes, adaptations of Dickens's A Christmas Carol must be among the most popular choices of Christmas show amongst theatres. This year's offering at the Palace is the Bill Kenwright production of Leslie Bricusse's Scrooge, directed by Bob Tomson and starring a 68-year-old Tommy Steele in the title role.
It is difficult to go too far wrong with this wonderful moral tale, and, although Bricusse's adaptation is patchy and his songs are not particularly memorable, the original story shines through. It is a lively production, often funny and sometimes moving, with a large cast of both adult and child performers, many of whom play a number of roles. Although there are some moments of old-fashioned, over-the-top 'musical comedy' acting and staging, there are also some very good performances. Robin Armstrong is wonderful as the kindly, loving Bob Cratchit, with good support from Susan Humphris as his wife. Samuel James is charismatic as Scrooge's always-cheerful nephew Harry. As the ghost of Jacob Marley, Barry Howard milks his role as much as possible, to good effect.
However Scrooge is really a star vehicle, and Tommy Steele fills the title role perfectly. After around half a century on the stage, he can still produce a physical, funny and moving performance in a large role for eight shows a week - and he still has that familiar infectious smile.
The scenery, from designer Paul Farnsworth works well, providing a permanent backdrop of broken timbers, cracked windows and rough brickwork into which other items are brought or flown, especially the large walls and four-poster bed of Scrooge's bedroom. There are some impressively elaborate costumes, with the odd exception of the rather cheap - and modern-looking - Santa Claus outfit that Scrooge appears in towards the end.
Paul Kieve's magic effects are impressive. Marley's sudden appearance from behind an open door as Scrooge closes it produces a huge reaction from the audience, but bigger effects are to come. The Ghost of Christmas Present appears, complete with throne and piles of food, on Scrooge's bed, which is seen to be empty only a couple of seconds earlier (although Scrooge's actions leading up to it are very obviously preparing the audience for a trick). Most baffling of all is when the Ghost of Christmas Past walks through the mirror and disappears, leaving behind just her cape in Scrooge's arms. Unfortunately the sound is quite poor, particularly the vocal sound which at times is harsh bordering on painful.
Although not a great musical, this is very entertaining family festive entertainment, and a chance to see Tommy Steele still doing what he has been doing so well for the last fifty years.
"Scrooge" runs until 15 January 2005
Reviewer: David Chadderton