A festive tale of ghosts and goodwill

Writer and director Ian Adams as the ghost of Jacob Marley puts the frighteners on Ebenezer Scrooge played by Graham Cole

A Christmas Carol

Lichfield Garrick

****

THE Garrick looks like it has another home-grown, Christmas hit on its hands with this light hearted look at Charles Dickens's Christmas ghost story.

Taking the 1843 dark, horror classic and turning it into a family alternative to a ‘look out he's behind you' panto without scaring youngsters out of their wits means there has to be compromises and a light touch to what is meant to be a frightening story.

So for a start it is turned into a musical, all singing and all dancing and filled with fun and then Graham Cole, he of The Bill, produces a Scrooge who is a curmudgeonly, grumpy old man rather than the stone-hearted, miserly money-lender intended by Dickens. A misery rather than a miserable monster.

This Scrooge, a banker remember if you want to get the boos in early, shows a decided reluctance to be a lifelong bastion of evil and is ready for redemption as soon as the first ghost appears, the ghost of Christmas past, dearie, played by the show's writer and director Ian Adams who is a renowned Pantomime Dog – that's a Great Dame to me and you (Boom! Boom! . . . or groan, please yourself)

Thus we have a gay ghostly Christmas Past in a frock with a sort of beacon bouffant glowing away and there are even a few panto jokes thrown in to brighten up young Ebenezer's school days.

Adams tops that though with the Ghost of Christmas Present dressed in traditional St Nicholas green until he removes the heavy cloak to reveal a red Santa suit and launches into a tap extravaganza which takes us into the realms of Busby Berkeley with the excellent chorus - and dozens of other parts - of Jonny Fines, Dayle Hodge, Chris Neumann, Zoe Pembroke, Sarah Riches and Jessica Spalis.

Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit are determined to enjoy Christmas despite Scrooge

Tap was a dying art but it is seeing a resurgence these days which is no bad thing. The six of the ensemble showed more multi-tasking with a display of ice skating on a stage which doubles as a dry rink. They also pop up as six street dancing ghosts, a feature which Mr Dickens presumable forgot to slip into the original.

The Ghost of Christmas yet to come though is a much more sombre affair, a tall, silent ghoul, who lets the future speak for itself with Tiny Tim (Ben Edwards) passed away and Scrooge unmourned and unloved wheeled off to his tomb in celebration with not even a hint of sadness.

Alex Wadham brings a cheery disposition to Bob Cratchit, and Mr Fezziwig incidentally, while Owain Williams  as the young Scrooge, and Scrooge's nephew Fred, is not only congenitally nice and cheerful all the time but shows a fine singing voice.

Music is a strong point of the show which is produced by the Garrick's Executive and Artistic Director Adrian Jackson. That is his current day job.

He is also an internationally known conductor and arranger and even has his own philharmonic orchestra which explains why there are some top class arrangements making old numbers sound fresh and original for the excellent David Harvey on keyboards.

Rachael Pennell is a regular at the Garrick with her own plays and gives us the contrasting Mrs Cratchit, trying to bring up her brood on Bob's miserly wages, the happy Mrs Fezziwig and the humble Mrs Dilber, housekeeper to Scrooge, who shows her true feelings once the old skinflint is dead and she flogs his nightshirt, stripped from his cold body, and his bedding to Old Joe, (Alex Wadham again) who appears to be on his way to a Fagin reunion night.

All credit to many of the cast incidentally who play several roles. By a mix of make up and acting it is only when looking in the programme that you realise the cast of thousands has come down to half a dozen or so.

The Garrick does not have the zillions to spend on special effects that big, West End productions manage but did its bit with the ghost of Marley, Scrooge's old partner (Ian Adams again) gliding up and down a wall on a chair and Marley's animated face appearing on a doorknocker, which was particularly nifty, and there is lots of dry ice, sound effects and dramatic lighting – the Cratchet's stove even has smoke coming from it's chimney.

The sets from John Brooking were simple and effective, a few pushes, turns and folds and whole scenes changed with minimal delay and Brooking's costumes looked the part as well, very Victorian.

I am not quite sure why three singing pigs and a ventriloquist's monkey appeared – twice! But hey, it keeps the kids happy, and Christmas is a magical time for them.

Unlike last year's Peter Pan, another excellent home-grown Christmas show, this is perhaps aimed more at an older audience – seven or so up rather than toddlers.

There is no audience participation or involvement, you are there to be entertained and the excellent cast manage that pretty well, keeping the bones of the original tale intact although Dickens does go out of the window at the end with a sing song medley of Christmas numbers while the audience sit in a blizzard with snow falling gently from the ceiling; a festive and fun end to a stylish panto alternative.

A standing ovation showed what the audience thought of a show well worthy of a wider exposure than just Lichfield. To 02-01-12

Roger Clarke

And from a ghostly apparition at the back . . .

***** 

EVEN that miserable old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, couldn't put a damper on this stunning Christmas show in which the cast received a deserved standing ovation at the final curtain.

Based on the classic Charles Dickens story, the happy-ending musical really is a home made success, cleverly put together by the theatre's artistic director Adrian Jackson - whose musical arrangement stamp is on the action is obvious - and he is also the producer.

More than a year's work has gone into this version of A Christmas Carol, written and directed by Ian Adams, and if anyone is concerned that it's not a pantomime, the fears are quickly dispelled.

Adams even turns up on stage multi-tasking as the ghosts of Jacob Marley, Christmas Past (a gay ghost), Present and Future. And is that Michael Jackson dancing with some evil-looking ghouls?

It's colourful, amusing, with slick special effects, good sets and music that the young and old can enjoy, and even ice skating on stage! No audience participation is required in this production....except for providing regular applause.

Graham Cole, of The Bill fame, who began his theatre career as a holiday camp red coat, is a splendid Scrooge, a grumpy old skinflint at the start, but turning into a good guy with the help of some very interesting ghosts pointing out the error of his ways.

Special effects are impressive, though the shadowy figure behind a screen as Marley's ghost levitates on a chair, shouldn't be seen by the audience.

Owain Williams is excellent as Young Scrooge and Fred and there are fine performances, too, from Lucy Jane Quinlan (Jenny and Isobel) and Alex Wadham (Bob Cratchit, Mr Fezziwig and Old Joe).

The children in the show sparkle throughout, and there is a lovely finish with a string of happy Christmas songs as real-looking snow falls on the cast, and people in the stalls.

A Christmas cracker that sends people home with a big smile. To 02-01-12

Paul Marston

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