Festive 19/20MusicalNorth WestReview

The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit- Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Music and Lyrics: Andre Catrini

Book: Allan Knee

Director: Johnathan O’Boyle

Designer: Gregor Donnelly

Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

Author Allan Knee takes a surprising approach to the daunting challenge of devising a sequel to one of the most-loved festive stories ever- Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. In The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit the title character, the former Tiny Tim, is now an orphan in his teens and working with his ‘uncle’ Ebenezer Scrooge. However, Timothy (Ryan Kopel) finds the work unfulfilling and to the distress of Scrooge (Paul Greenwood) rejects an offer of partnership and sets out to find his purpose in life.

Despite occasional slips into modern terms like ’wannabe’ author Allan Knee establishes authenticity drawing from actual events in Dickens’s life. Like Dickens, young Scrooge spent time in a debtors’ prison due to his father being unable to pay his bills. A range of larger-than-life characters that would be at home in one of Dickens’s novels helps Timothy along in his journey. Michael Matus as the clown Grimaldi is a wonderful comedy eccentric with an atrocious Italian accent due to coming from the Italian part of Brighton.

However, considering the musical is a sequel to a celebrated Christmas ghost story both supernatural and seasonal features are in sparse supply. The title suggests Knee is interested in the period during which Timothy lives and instead establishes a sense of wonder at scientific and social developments. The show opens at London’s Great Exhibition and Timothy’s quest takes him around the UK. The sense of society on the edge of change matches Timothy’s restless urge to find his vocation.

Director Johnathan O’Boyle uses Gregor Donnelly’s striking set design to compensate for the lack of paranormal events in the script. A ring of mirrors circles the stage and turns transparent revealing spectral images of the chorus or crowds that add a ghostly touch to scenes. Even so, despite O’Boyle’s best efforts there is a lack of atmosphere in the musical; the occasional flurry of snow does not really convey a sense of the festive season. The sense of redemption does not come from a miser learning the true meaning of Christmas or the importance of family (notably no mention is made of Timothy’s sisters or Scrooge’s nephew) but rather Timothy coming to terms with the hurt his actions caused his benefactor and appreciating the significance of Scrooge in his life.

The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit is more opera than a musical in that Andre Catrini’s lyrics are dialogue set to music rather than verse/chorus songs. As a result there is a lack of a rousing anthem with only Sammy Graham’s ‘Better Times to Come’ being close to memorable.

A fresh-faced Ryan Kopel as Timothy certainly catches the mood of a character in a hurry to get somewhere even if unsure of his destination. Never leaving the stage Kopel seems to be running on enthusiasm and nervous energy, which is perfect for the idealistic and optimistic Timothy.

Paul Greenwood is a surprisingly vulnerable Scrooge. Still tormented by guilt for his past behaviour he has fixated on Timothy as a symbol of his redemption and cannot cope with his absence. Significantly, when Timothy leaves Scrooge has a vision of his late partner Jacob Marley raising the tantalising possibility that he might be tempted to relapse to his old miserly ways.

The limited spooky and seasonal features in The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit is a surprise but some fine performances ensure this show is far from a Christmas humbug.

Runs until 29th December 2019 | Image: Contributed

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