Book, Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse based on a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
New Victoria Theatre, Woking & touring
It is many years since I last saw Tommy Steele and I remember him as a likeable young fellow with an effervescent personality and an appealingly cheeky grin. I have to report that although age may have changed his features he has lost none of his charm, and however much he grumbles and grouses as the miserable Scrooge it is no surprise when his good nature triumphs in the end. Energy and enthusiasm are as evident as ever and, in spite of spending almost the whole show shuffling grumpily about in a dressing gown he somehow manages to do so with a jaunty air bringing comedy to the complaints of the curmudgeonly old miser.
In case there is anyone who doesn’t know the story, it is Dickens’s tale of a man who has devoted his life to acquiring money regardless of the needs of others. Not until he has tasted (and enjoyed) the ‘milk of human kindness’ does he see the error of his ways, graphically pointed out to him first by the chain rattling ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley (Barry Howard), followed by three separate ghosts showing him Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future with warnings of the fate he could have in store.
This is an ambitious show to tour, its already enormous cast augmented by fifteen of Babette Langford’s ‘Young Set’, including white-blonde and suitably tiny and delicate-looking Joe Sheridan as a Tiny Tim guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes with his wistful, regretful acceptance of poverty and disability. A small but pivotal role expertly performed by Sheridan who is booked for the whole run, as well he might be with his childish treble ‘God Bless Us every one!‘ ending the show on an emotionally high note.
In Paul Farnsworth’s amazingly complex set, scenes (and there are many) slip from one to another like a dream, all set against an immense indeterminate grey wall suggesting, rather than specifically depicting, a ramshackle Victorian London scene where the costumes and cast stand out like characters on a Christmas card. Through this edifice ghosts magically appear, and even more magically disappear with illusionist Paul Kieve creating mystery and amazement, magnified by Nick Richings’s atmospheric lighting.
Aside from the well-known ‘Thank You Very Much’ Bricusse’s music is not particularly memorable, but two numbers performed by the company do stand out in my mind. ‘December the Twenty-Fifth’ and ‘The Minister’s Cat’ swing joyfully along and are a perfectly timed and choreographed antidote to the sepulchral warnings of the ghosts.
Steele, amazingly, will celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday during this tour, has now been fifty five years in show business and in this, his sixth time playing the role of Scrooge, he shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. There is strong support from an excellent cast with Bob Tomson’s tight direction keeping firm control of it all, but the show belongs to Steele. Old rockers never die and fading quietly away is not an option. The cheering standing ovation said it all, going on so long Steele, with a big, happy grin, had to suggest that we all went home.
Touring to Cymru Llandudno, Milton Keynes, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Oxford
Reviewer: Sheila Connor