FamilyMusicalNorth WestReview

A Christmas Carol – The Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Reviewer: Jay Nuttall

Writer: Kate Ferguson

Music & Lyrics: Susannah Pearse

Director: Georgia Murphy

Dickens’ classic Christmas tale gets revamped at The Octagon Theatre in Bolton. With a brand-new adaptation, the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his night of paranormal visitations, Bolton’s creative team bring a fun, new musical adaption played by a talented cast of actor-musicians to the stage this year. Humbug it is not.

With a start time of 7pm and a playing time bringing the show to a close shortly after 9pm this is a show designed very much with a family audience in mind. The scaled-down production is not just limited to the digestible running time for younger audiences but also to the staging and overall ethos of the show. The theatre’s usual three-sided stage is transformed into the round with a minimal playing area meaning that this is an intimate show with a cast of just seven. Director Georgina Murphy has directed an economic show in manner but not in merriment.

Miserly Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by the long-dead ex-business partner Jacob Marley (Jonathan Charles) who warns him of the three spirits visiting imminently to show him the error of his ways. Charles Dickens’ Victorian story of charity and the importance of living a good life is injected with lightness and playfulness. This is not a production with a brooding Scrooge and terrifying ghosts. Susannah Pearse’s music and lyrics power the show throughout with exuberance and liveliness under the musical directorship Matthew Malone. There are some catchy numbers to excite and make accessible to a young audience, especially Here Comes the Goose in the Cratchit household and the join-in, out-of-the-seat party song and dance taught during the Fezziwigs’ Christmas party. The balance of the show is skewed heavily towards the musical. Although part of the appeal there could be more room for the story to breathe not in song – especially as the sound balance still needs to settle to ensure full clarity.

The cast are excellent as they double, triple and quadruple their way through the character list. The show very much has an ensemble feel with actors swapping between guises, instruments and stage management duties giving the show a pleasing sense of collaborative storytelling. Laurie Jameson’s Scrooge is surly and sarcastic with some lovely lines that break the fourth wall. With a remarkable likeness to Kenneth Branagh or a young Bernard Cribbins, Scrooge is faced with a chopper-cycling, Christmas tree-wearing Christmas Present singing a pop song about the delights of Christmas pudding (Lianne Harvey) and simply quips, “We’re not going to get on, are we?” Lauren Patel’s Christmas Past is ethereal and magical counterbalanced with Harvey’s wonderfully bizarre Christmas Present channeling a festive Lady Gaga. The cartoonish ghost of Marley is less effective, however, with a song that doesn’t quite hit the comic or the chilling. Powering their way through the ensemble and a vast array of characters Robert Wade and Grace Firth have enormous fun as Fred, Fezziwigs and Cratchits.

Writer Kate Ferguson and musical adapter Susannah Pearse are already lined up to create next year’s Christmas offering in Bolton. Eighty Days Around the World will be their next venture after already making Treasure Island for the theatre a few years ago. They have proved they can make accessible family shows aimed at a younger market. Although much gentler than most adaptations, this show will have broad appeal and have little ones dancing to the Fezziwigs’ party song all the way home.

Runs until 14th January 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Festive family fun

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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