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Scrooge at the Palace

Joan Davies likes a tight-fisted old miser’s magical transformation

Published on November 10th 2009.

Scrooge at the Palace

Much as some of us may want to resist it for a little longer, it’s hard to deny that Christmas is drawing close. Manchester switches its Christmas lights on this Thursday and that arch Christmas-denier Scrooge is making an appearance for this week only at The Palace Theatre. Played by legendary entertainer Tommy Steele, this Scrooge sings and dances his way through his conversion in the London Palladium’s production of the musical ‘Scrooge’, based on Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol.

Terrified, horrified and holding himself responsible he determines to change his ways. Scrooge uses his power and wealth to bring joy where he can. Happiness ensues, for all. Still modern? Doubtful. There’s no return to bonus payments for Scrooge.

This familiar tale, a Christmas staple in which doesn’t mention Jesus, remains popular because it embodies universal values as Scrooge changes his life and the lives of those around him

Ebeneezer Scrooge, successful merchant and banker, squeezes costs and elevates the accruing of profit to be the guiding principle of his life and business. If the people who owe him money fall on hard times he shows no mercy: they must repay. No measure is spared in the pursuit of cost savings and his employees must endure harsh conditions and poor pay. So far it seems a modern tale.

Visited by 3 Ghosts – Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future – Scrooge is shown his childhood innocence and promise, the real and current life of those around him, and a final chilling vision of the future. Terrified, horrified and holding himself responsible he determines to change his ways. Scrooge uses his power and wealth to bring joy where he can. Happiness ensues, for all. Still modern? Doubtful. There’s no return to bonus payments for Scrooge.

This being a musical version there’s rather less of the terror and horror and rather more of the happiness and joy than I recall from the brilliant 1951 black and white film starring Alistair Sim. On The Palace Theatre stage Scrooge’s redemption is never in doubt. Along the way there’s some wonderful ensemble singing, some pleasant but largely unmemorable tunes and a very, very sweet and beautifully-sung Tiny Tim. There’s also the inevitable Cockney-style song and dance routine, all good cheer and pumping elbows, but nothing to match Oliver or My Fair Lady numbers.

This show got its first airing as a film musical in 1970 and became a stage musical very much later. Leslie Bricusse wrote the music and lyrics. Though pleasant they don’t match the quality of some of his earlier work which includes ‘What Kind of Fool Am I’ and ‘Talk to the Animals’.

Tommy Steele has had a long and successful career, as a pop singer, movie star and stage performer. He made ‘Half A Sixpence’ his own and got a regular soaking in countless performances of the stage version of the ever popular ‘Singin’ In The Rain’. Apparently he turns 73 next month and can still scuttle around the stage, belt out the closing bars of a tune, and gain a standing ovation from his loyal fans in the audience, many of whom brought along their grandchildren.

Magician Paul Kieve, responsible for the magic effects in the Harry Potter films, created impressive illusions so that we never could quite guess exactly where and how the ghosts would appear.

Paul Farnsworth’s design gave us a Victorian Christmas with the colours we would expect and characters who looked just like those in the original etchings and engravings of John Leech, the original illustrator of A Christmas Carol. The Ghost of Christmas Present, played by James Head, was definitely my favourite. Larger than life, straight off the Dickens page, and with a powerful voice he pointed out the choices and consequences with an almost modern irony, and an air that he knew quite a few more ways to enjoy Christmas. He’d be a fun addition to many Christmas parties.

Geoffrey Abbott as Bob Cratchit, Craig Whiteley as Scrooge’s nephew Harry, Claire Marlowe as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Halcro Hohnston also deliver strong performances, within an all-round excellent cast.

The Palace Theatre provides a great atmosphere for such entertainments. The audience, forgiving of an early technical hitch, was rewarded with a quality performance with no weak links. It’s definitely a family-friendly musical in the traditional style, if a little short on dramatic tension and emotional involvement. You get those qualities in the ‘51 film, but not the singing, nor the colour.

Scrooge is at The Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday 14th November

Performance times: 7.30pm, Weds and Sat matinee 2.30pm
Tickets: £9.50 to £35

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