running until 31 December
Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens’s musical take on Dickens’s festive classic first premiered in 1994, and was performed annually in Madison Square Gardens until 2003. It’s a popular choice in London this year: while a concert version took place in the West End’s Lyceum Theatre on Monday, the Lost Theatre on Wandsworth Road have also chosen it as their family Christmas show.
Menken is best known for his work with Disney – Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast to name but a few – so it’s no surprise that the score is a highlight of this almost sung-through piece. The rousing opening number sets the warm, Christmassy London scene, and is the first sign that this production is at its strongest when the whole company perform together with gusto. There are some gorgeous voices amongst the cast, including that of nine-year-old Ella Tidbury who performs with assurance beyond her years. In particular, Joe Brown (Scrooge aged 18) and Natalie Morgan (Emily) show off beautiful vocals that blend well in their brief duet.
The cast ranges from seasoned performer Piers Garnham as Scrooge, returning to the Lost Theatre after ten years away, to seven-year-old Arthur Tidbury, who steals everyone’s hearts as Tiny Tim in his stage debut. Garnham gives a commanding performance as Scrooge, while Toby Joyce is a sweet and heart-warming Bob Cratchitt.
The pacing of the show could do with some adjustment, as the third ghostly episode – the Ghost of Christmas Future – feels rather rushed in comparison to the Ghost of Christmas Past, meaning the moral of the story, and Scrooge’s real fear of death and desolation, doesn’t hit home as powerfully as it should. Other song-and-dance sections, such as Marley’s initial entrance, feel drawn out beyond their potential; I’m not convinced the cast always have the stamina to keep the high levels of energy going throughout each routine. The Fezziwigs’ Christmas ball is choreographed cleverly by James Thacker to play to the strengths of the cast, yet again it is simply too long a set piece and means the thread of the plot is lost, momentarily abandoned even. Indeed, for what is a relatively simple story when you strip it back, I wondered how well the young audience members would be able to follow the narrative: at times we are fed so much information so quickly that it would be hard for a newcomer to keep up, while at others we are waiting for the singing to end and the story itself to be picked up again.
This issue is not helped by some problems with the sound balance, meaning lyrics are not always conveyed clearly (and, let’s be honest, this wasn’t helped on Thursday’s matinee by the incredible number of crisp packets rustling in every corner of the audience…). At certain points the lyrics are explained, or the scene is changed, by video projections, but these are only successful some of the time: Scrooge’s gravestone looms effectively over the Ghost of Christmas Future’s appearance, but at other times the projections are lost on the set and are a little confusing rather than illuminating. On a positive note, Thacker and Mark Magill’s costumes are charming and well thought out to show off the footwork of the best dancers.
What is captured most successfully is a sense of warmth and goodwill, and as this company of all ages end the performance in unison once again, you can’t help but feel festive – after all, what is Christmas without A Christmas Carol? Despite some flaws, this is a laudable production performed with spirit, which successfully transfers a large-scale Broadway show into a fringe favourite and, judging by the enthusiastic reception, certainly got the audience full of festive cheer this December.
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