North East & YorkshirePantomimeReview

A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Writer: Charles Dickens

Adaptor: Nick Lane

Music/Lyrics: Simon Slater

Director: Paul Robinson

Designer: Helen Coyston

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol stirs up thoughts about the point when a play turns from being “by Charles Dickens adapted by Nick Lane” into “a new play by Nick Lane based on the story by Charles Dickens”. Despite amending the title Nick Lane modestly adheres to the former, but publicity puts a fair emphasis on such non-Dickensian elements as a ghost named Terry and woman with a nut for a head.

In fact, the surreal extras take up a limited amount of stage time and sometimes give the impression of the production trying too hard to be different. Most of the original is intact, some of it played fairly straight, and Lane, composer Simon Slater and director Paul Robinson bring masses of zany invention to the story; for example, in Anne-Marie Piazza’s increasingly frantic attempt to portray simultaneously Mrs. Cratchit and all her children except the largest Tiny Tim seen on any stage (Elliott Rennie, with a decidedly tiny crutch and stool).

Lane’s unique take on the Scrooge story – apart from switching to Scarborough, with plenty of local references – is to set it in Scrooge’s kitchen at Christmas immediately after his amazing transformation. We, the audience, have been admitted briefly to warm ourselves at the fire. Now Mr Speckledyke the butler tries to clear the kitchen before there’s trouble with the master, but the three other servants gang up on him, with audience support (much gleeful shouting of harmless infant rudery), and instead, the servants act out the remarkable story. 

There’s plenty of room for basic pantomime humour: an “It’s behind you!” interlude, for instance, or a snowball fight where Scrooge is belted by the entire audience, rather small on the occasion of the review owing to schools being snowed off or snowed in, but with no lack of firepower. There’s plenty of clever stuff, too. Apart from Speckledyke (Joey Hickman), a shoo-in for Scrooge, all the servants take on multiple roles, but still reflect their original characters. Mrs Grubb (Piazza), the “forthright” cook, is even forthright as the apologetically deaf charity worker. Pod the dogsbody (Rennie) stays “dopey” throughout, ending with his moment of glory as a rapping Ghost of Christmas Future. Clara Winks (Alicia Mckenzie), “a giggly chambermaid”, giggles her way through such confusions as appearing as a fan when playing Little Fan, Ebenezer’s sister. And Speckledyke channels his master rather well, convincingly cruel in the first scene with Pod’s Bob Cratchit, dopier and less diligent than usual of course, Clara’s absurdly moustached Fred and Mrs Grubb’s persistent Edna Kindly.

Simon Slater’s songs grow out of the narrative, many of them very short, all effective and some memorable, notably the “Christmas Day every day” song that seems to become more anthemic with each repetition. Musically another outstanding feature is the instrumental support of the four cast members, constantly switching between trombone, flute, accordion, double bass, cello, banjo, guitar and ukulele. Helen Coyston’s designs add to the general merriment. The opening scene – costumes all black and white, basic tables and chairs, a washing line of old-fashioned undies – gives way to rapidly changing, colourful, sometimes crazy designs.

Runs until 31 December 2017 | Image: Tony Bartholomew

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The Reviews Hub Score

Zanily inventive

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. 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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