Christmas wouldn’t be complete without Charles Dickens’ classic festive tale about a miserly man who despises it all.
With theatres already booked up with December pantos, BOST (Birkenhead Operatic Society Trust) is getting in the spirit early with the North West premiere of A Christmas Carol (the all-singing, all-dancing version by Broadway composer Alan Menken).
It might only be November but it makes for a fabulously festive treat packed with sumptuous costumes, sparkling song and dance numbers from its 70-strong cast – and a refreshing sense of humour cutting through some of the saccharine sweetness.
Some minor problems with sound aside – making it hard to hear actors at the back of the stage – it’s as close to a professional show as you’ll get on the amateur scene.
BOST stalwart Tony Prince makes for a satisfyingly scowling Scrooge; eyes darting everywhere, shoulders hunched and a mouth permanently puckered with annoyance. His Scrooge is funnier than you might expect at times and he’s clearly relishing spitting out all those Bah Humbugs.
He’s suitably grumpy (“I abhor how they whine!”) yet totally convincing in the radical personality transformation that ensues as poor Scrooge is taken through the sadness of his father’s prison sentence, his mum’s demise and the loss of his fiancee Emily when work takes over his life.
The arrival of his ghostly former partner Jacob Marley doesn’t pack the punch you expect – it’s almost a disappointment to see him just walk through the door – but what follows is a beautifully staged exchange between the chain-clad ghoul (Frank Nance) and Scrooge as he convinces him of his other-wordly existence.After some lovely floaty, ghostly dancing there’s strong support from Gina Phillips, Michael Pearson and Linzi Stefanov as the ghosts of Scrooge’s past, present and future, while Mark McManus makes for an endearingly warm Bob Cratchit (accompanied by a super cute Tiny Tim in Matthew Burke).
Director Karen Partington makes full use of the Royal Court’s 9m revolving stage to bring the story to life, and it’s particularly effective as a device when Scrooge is shown flashes of his past – and the future, which comes in the form of an eerie posse of grave diggers dancing with shovels and hooded mourners holding their candles.
The production is packed with detail, particularly in the big group scenes – witness a Punch & Judy show as Scrooge is invited to his family’s Christmas dinner, stallholders selling their wares, the cheery Gaiety Theatre actors are doing their rounds, Bob Cratchit buys a scrawny chicken and there’s a blind woman begging who Scrooge may yet meet again.
If you don’t have a lump in your throat by the heartwarming grand finale then you really are a Scrooge.
Liverpool Echo Rating: ★★★★