Home / Festive / Festive 13/14 / A Christmas Carol – Charing Cross Theatre, London

A Christmas Carol – Charing Cross Theatre, London

Writer: Stephen Leask and Joshua Sills

Director: Joshua Sills

Reviewer: TL Wiswell

[rating:2]

christmascarol_charingcrossWho’d expect there to be two London debuts of Christmas Carol musicals in one year? But so there is, the first a remounting of the popular American one by Menken and Ahrens, the second a home-grown effort making its first showing in the Big Smoke after two regional tours. Last night was the opening of the second, a British-created A Christmas Carol (book by Stephen Leask and Joshua Sills, lyrics Jessica Rufey, Music Patrick Rufey), featuring 14 songs and a big cast (two rotating casts of five children each!). The show sticks pretty closely to Dickens’ story, skipping a few minor details while hitting the majors – Scrooge’s rejection of his first love in favor of money, the Fezziwig’s party, the Cratchits, et cetera. It’s all tied together with music, from the opening crowd scene “Christmas Eve” to “A Life of Regret” and “The Man I Meant to Be.”

It’s clear that a lot of work has gone into this show, with multiple costume changes, live accompaniment, and several dance scenes. But many of the details grate. The costume designer has made a general sort of Victorian looking clothes, which use fabrics and colors unknown to the period and cuts that range from Gone with the Wind to Mommy Dearest. This seems unbearably sloppy given the wealth of data about clothing of the period. The dance scenes also seem to have been done by someone who’s never done historical research – gentlefolk waltzing in the early 1800s? Can can dancing at a company party? Some attempts at research would have really helped add an air of authenticity. There’s also some serious scrimping on special effects, from the missing Marley knocker to the Ghost of Christmas present flying moment which consisted of the actors standing in front of the stage extending their arms, then lights out while they ran to the back of the stage. Much better was the Ghost of Christmas Future, a simple black curtain that faces were pressed out of – both spooky and a nice transition to Scrooge waking up in his bedroom, wrapped in the curtain. And the Christmas lights that illuminated the theater when the Ghost of Christmas Present appeared were simply magical.

Unfortunately, this magic did not extend to the music. The songs were melodic but entirely unmemorable, and the decision to have extended child solos in several of the songs was an affront to the ears. And somehow, Tiny Tim’s character was left nearly completely hollow by the script, which never really explained (or showed) why Scrooge was so enamored of him. A Christmas Carol has been to Weston Super Mare, Dunstable, and Bridlington, where it probably easily earned accolades, but in London, it’s in the right place in the Charing Cross Theater. There have been many excellent productions of this story, but this is not one of them, and while it isn’t terrible, it’s not really one to get enthusiastic about.

Runs until 4th January

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4 comments

  1. completely disagree with their opinions on authenticity. In the realm of musical theatre things often have to maintain a storybook/fairy tale feel. It’s part of the audiences suspension of disbelief. West End staples like Les Miserables have inauthentic costume (which is why they changed the costumes for the film medium, which needs more realism). Dance, as well, has to have elements of something feeling period, but needs to extend above and beyond historical social dance because it’s not entertainment for the characters in the piece (like dance is for us in real life) but entertainment for the people sitting behind the fourth wall. It’s presentation.

    Personally, I think this is a wonderful re-telling of A Christmas Carol. The songs are catchy and tuneful, and the message of a man earning redemption for a life wasted is very strong. It is not a story about a crotchety old man turning into less of a dick, as many modern adaptations seem to be. Scrooge’s cardinal sin is not that he’s cruel and miserly, it’s that he missed so much of the world around him and lost so much time. This is the story of his Salvation on Christmas Eve, and the Talkwood rendition depicts this beautifully.

  2. I attended this show’s London opening night, and I can not disagree with you more on almost every point. I thought the songs were charming, and in fact, one of my first thoughts was that the writers should look into opening them up for purchase by the public, as many voice teachers look in vain for new Christmas songs each year. And I adored the children’s solos! Honestly, I don’t understand how anyone could find them grating – and this is coming from someone who has always DESPISED “Annie”, and in particular, “Tomorrow” as being, yes, abominably grating.

    As for the dance, you’re just downright wrong. Did you do the research that you so scathingly accuse them of neglecting? A few seconds online, and I found this quote about the waltz: “It became fashionable in Britain during the Regency period, having been made respectable by the endorsement of Dorothea Lieven, wife of the Russian ambassador.[11] Almack’s, the most exclusive club in London, permitted the waltz from about 1812 on”. And even if that were not true, the only time the waltz appeared in this show was during the fantasy scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present – you know, when happy, brightly garbed people miraculously appear in Scrooge’s bedroom. Um, I don’t believe they were meant to represent “gentlefolk”. Perhaps you were confused by the fact that the actors portrayed several different characters? Also, the “can-can” you mentioned was a jig, and again, you’ve totally misinterpreted its’ purpose. The point was to show the enormous difference between the joyful Christmas celebrations of Scrooge’s early, less prosperous life and the bleakness of his current, wealthy circumstances. You might also want to keep in mind the fact that the point of Musical Theatre is to be bigger, bolder, and more entertaining (remember – there’s a big waltz scene in “Les Miserables”, which is set in 1832. Do you find that unacceptable, also?). Watching a company party in which the attendees did authentic Regency era dances would be unbelievably boring for the audience. Regency dances were meant to be entertaining for the participants, not for people on the sidelines.

    I do agree with your point about the costumes. The costumer apparently went for a generic “historic” look, which doesn’t work. In a show that has an important 30 year flashback, it’s important to show that time has passed, and the easiest way to do that is via fashion, so he/she should have made more of an attempt to garb the present-day characters in Romantic era styles, and the characters in the past in Regency style. As for the colors and fabrics, again, I agree, except for one scene; specifically, that same fantasy scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Key words: Fantasy and Christmas. The garish, sparkly reds, greens, and golds worked wonders in that number. However, the bright sequined costumes should have been changed when the number ended, when the actors went on to portray actual, living characters.

    And ok, I’ll give you Marley’s knocker. I wondered about that, too.

    All in all, though, I thought the show was charming – and I cried from the final number of the first act, up through the end of the show. I think you must have had a bit of undigested beef in your gut while writing this review.

  3. Peter Q Smith

    Erm… What show were you watching??? I completely disagree with this I came out of the theatre last night feeling totally happy and moved, great choreography, wonderful score, (and the children’s singing was lovely!!!!) a moving script based on a classic Christmas story it really got me in the festive mood!!! Bah humbug to this review, the cast and crew should be proud! Go see it!

  4. Yep, only one thing to say about the above review “Bah Humbug”.

    This show is a great tribute to all those involved from a superb casting to the writers, production team, stage & support teams, sound crew et al. A truly fantastic team that is totally evident in the end product.

    For the budget available to a show like this the set is stunning and worthy of any West End theatre. With wonderful & appropriate special effects that really do capture the magic of Christmas & the era absolutely as Dickens would have dreamed. So no flying but what do you expect, this isn’t Billy Smart’s Circus with all the money in the world at its disposal.

    The cast & the fabulously matched musical score bring this show to life in a magical and real way. You can’t help but become engrossed in this show, it will hold your attention for it’s entire length & will take your emotions on a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions. From entrancement to pity, and from laughter to shock/ horror the entire show is continually stirring & moving your inner emotions.

    Whatever you think of this well known story, this show brings it to life in a truly magical way that awakens the heart to true human spirit and kindness. As the reader below says, it’s a sad story about a man that wasted many years not realising the real wealth to be gained from life but finally realising his error before it’s too late with a little bit of help from the spiritual world. Does this all really sound like a story that survives on implicit authenticity, ghosts teaching an old miser life lessons haha?