MusicalNorth WestReview

Claus The Musical – The Lowry, Salford

Reviewer: Jo Beggs

Book: Simon Warne

Music & Lyrics: Andy Collyer

Writer: L. Frank Baum

Director: Kate Golledge

Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus has seen a string of adaptations in film, anime and graphic novels since its 1902 publication, perhaps in an attempt to replicate the success of the spin-offs from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It’s an equally strange fantasy story with many parallels to Baum’s earlier novel, in which a human finds themself in a strange world, adventures into the unknown and where everyone learns lots of lessons along the way.

In this case it’s Santa Claus, turning up out of nowhere in the Forest of Burzee, a supposedly abandoned baby. Burzee is the domain of the immortals – fairies, Nymphs, Knooks and the evil invisible Awgwas. As we all know, magical creatures love to dabble in the human world, and the Nymph Necile manages to convince the Fairy King Ak to let her adopt the child. Clause grows up to be an adventurous and thoughtful young man, keen to leave the forest and find out what’s beyond it, so Ak takes him off around the world. It’s the first of his many circumnavigations.

This world premiere production of Claus The Musical sticks closely to much of the original story. As such it’s a strange and rather un-Christmassy seasonal offering, much of it taken up with origin story. It’s a good way through the second half by the time we see the Santa Claus we all love – red coat, sack of toys, sledge, reindeers and all. It’s also quite a complicated tale, with lots of fast-paced narrative squeezed in between largely forgettable songs.

On top of this, the design and direction are far too fussy. The set seems too big for the stage. Much use of flowing fabric to represent weather and shelters, webs constructed with ribbons, shadow puppetry on sheets strung between poles, and lots of unnecessary business with torches leads to chaotic tangling and the large cast seeming to fight for space. Add to this some half-hearted puppetry, and there’s just too much going on. If the inventive ideas that have gone into the show were streamlined they would have so much more impact. When part of the set and a ladder are transformed into a sleigh in the second act, for example, it’s a complete delight.

The show is full of life-affirming stuff. It’s delivered in a rather ‘motivational meme’ kind of way but you can’t argue its validity – ‘If you’re mortal, then make the time you have count’, ‘co-operate for success’, ‘don’t cut down the forest’. It’s charming and magical, with something of a Midsummer Night’s Dream vibe – but if you’re expecting a rip-roaring Christmas show you might find all this a bit worthy.

While Chris Draper as Will Knook plays the fool a bit, and Corrine Priest delivers some wisecracks as the acerbic Fairy Queen, there’s just not enough humour in the show, and somehow, in all the clamour, the musical element also gets a bit lost. New musicals always have the challenge of winning over the audience with unknown songs, but there’s nothing here that you come out of the theatre humming. Having said that, the songs are delivered with gusto, with particular credit going to Harry Winchester as Claus and Georgie Buckland as Necile. Buckland’s vocals rise above everything and bring some lovely, if brief, moments of focus. Choreography (Lucinda Lawrence) that goes with the ensemble songs, shows how the large cast can get it together. There a few slick and hugely joyful moments of this, although not nearly enough.

There’s much to like here, but too many ideas have been squeezed in, the cast is too big, and it all ends in an unruly muddle. Most of all though, it’s just too earnest to spark the joy of Christmas.

Runs until 8 January 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Un-seasonally earnest

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The Reviews Hub - North West

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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