In Scrooge’s bedroom the appearance of Marley’s Ghost (either Fergus Levey or Mark Woodhouse) and gaolers, to warn Scrooge, this appears through a trap door, and managed to make Here In Life sufficiently striking that at least for the duration of the song one could succeed in forgetting all about Paul Williams’s Marley And Marley (which filled this moment in one film version).
On to The Ghost Of Christmas Past’s appearance, Ben Geering does rather well with this ethereal creature, making it seem neither man nor woman. He surely has a certain potential as an actor. Maybe one day he might tackle some of the roles played by the late Charles Shivall?
It is at this point in the show that Carr’s music truly takes on such delightful qualities one rarely finds in musicals these days, namely the work of a real honest-to-goodness tunesmith. Home For Good is a delightfully catchy number. Put across brilliantly by the lovely Freya Holland as Scrooge’s jolly sister Fan. She knows just what to do with such a brilliant song, performing it with all the enthusiasm it demands. The tune is pretty catchy, particularly the refrain “Home from Christmas and home for good”.
The Fezziwig Annual Company Christmas Ball is another super piece of music. Not perhaps as catchy, but it gives the piece a real good old days feel, that of a brass band. It’s so perfect for the moment, and really quite unexpected to find such an excellently written brass band sort of piece in a new musical. These days although some musicals set in earlier times might have a brassy march in them, few would have one that has such a rich arrangement, Carr is a true master of his craft as both a writer and arranger, this piece is proof of that.
I was surprised to find The
Ghost Of Christmas Present played by a woman, Emily Dyble nevertheless
plays her with authority. Bearing in mind that Paul Williams wrote a
terrific Christmas song It Feel’s Like Christmas for this moment
in a film version, that was going to be a tough act to follow. Wisely perhaps Bryony
The Crachit family themselves were always going to be difficult parts for the actors to make their own. However, collectively the children played by Helena Berry, Tom Bulpert, Joseph Porter, Chloe Brooker, Hannah Skipper, and, Ellie Bulpert, do succeed in bringing something of their own to the group, getting away from two dimensional stereotypes, and bringing to life a very real looking, lower middle class Victorian family. Timothy Porter too is rather engaging as Tiny Tim, making the part his own. Mai Elphinstone has perhaps one of the hardest jobs, portraying a dowdy housewife. The problem is the part has a tendency to be regarded as a big female star role, and been done on film and television by some characters with a lot of presence. What with Miss Piggy in one film version; not to mention Roland Rat’s Mother Iris in one mostly forgettable TV version (where Iris outshone all the others); there are truly some hard acts to follow. Mai Elphinstone doesn’t have that kind of authoritative presence. However, she does her best with the part, and comes into her own going to assist Tiny Tim.
On to Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s
family’s Christmas, they are playing party games, in particular a guessing game
Yes And No. Now
This is followed by The Christmas Toast, another jolly tune to send the audience out into the intermission, but one which I can’t quite recall subsequently. These days, thanks largely to pre-releases of showtune albums (as practiced by Andrew Lloyd-Webber et al), and the craze for back-catalogue musicals (particularly those using famous pop groups), as an audience we have by and large forgotten how to listen carefully to a truly new score. The result is that audiences today (and even more critics) will so often say a score doesn’t have any catchy tunes in it, when perhaps the real problem is that firstly we don’t listen properly, secondly real good old fashioned showtunes do not get the kind of radio exposure they would have done in Broadway’s golden age, and thirdly shows with brilliant scores like this do not get an album and therefore we only have one shot at hearing the score, which is not really enough time to get to know and judge whether a well written song could be catchy (especially if we underuse the skill of listening properly).
Like Sondheim and Weidman’s Follies, the second act opens exactly where the first left of, Scrooge on the floor trying to work free of the ghost of Christmas Present’s children Ignorance and Want.
There is worse to come. The Grey Children and Spirits reprise their opening number A Ghost Story.
The Crachit family bring their acting skills even more to the fore, in what is almost a tableaux of a family in mourning, sewing to get their clothes ready for Tiny Tim’s funeral. This scene does not have a song to it, but Bryony Lavery seems to have done justice to the text with her script.
The scavengers (Dobbler, Mrs Dilber, and, Mrs Dalchick) going through Scrooge’s belongings after his death are given not one but effectively two scenes, and a song. The second scene finds them going to sell their finds to Old Joe. All of them, along with Mrs Old Joe, sing Make Hey (Cause Tonight You Die). Once again Carr his provided them with a good song and his clever lyrics, although I can’t remember much about this one (that is the problem with only hearing things once). Although I was struck by the fact that the song started making me think, purely in terms of the sentiments expressed in it, of Lionel Bart’s classic It’s Your Funeral. Bart was also a great lyricist, and lyrically I think both songs are comparable. However, Carr is far cleverer and more original when it comes to tunes. Though Bart had an ear for a catchy tune it is true, Carr is a far far superior musician. I couldn’t help thinking that possibly Old Joe and Mrs Old Joe may well be almost stock characters whom Dickens may well have incorporated into at least one other novel (namely Oliver Twist), and who knows maybe more. Somehow they reminded me a little of The Soweberrys (whom I recently saw so excellently brought to life at Drury Lane). Perhaps with experience Joe James and Heidi Pointet could have made a little more of the Old Joes, but as it was they were not bad (just not quite as noticeable as perhaps they could have been, though admittedly it would have taken a rare comedy talent to really bring these characters out).
In these two scenes I particularly noticed Katie Finch’s performance as Mrs Dalchick, she seems to have a fair amount of presence. I was a little disappointed in Claire Knapman’s performance as Mrs Dilber, she basically did well, but I felt she did not quite stand up to her co-star’s presence (and given how much presence that character had in a certain 1992 film version, this was a little noticeable).
A good number or scene can be hard to follow, which is perhaps why I don’t really remember much about Will McGovern as Antimony singing Who Cares (though I’m sure the song was up to Carr’s usual high standards.
The final scene, finds Scrooge more or less reformed joining with the company in wishing Merry Christmas Everybody. This is another of Carr’s really splendid, catchy upbeat tunes, with terrific lyrics, I particularly notice a reference to “Brunel The Engineer”. Who else who manage to work Isambard Kingdom Brunel into a song lyric like that! (or could that have meant Marc Brunel, IKB’s father?)
The show ends with reprises of Merry Christmas Everybody and The Christmas Goose. Two of three numbers the audience might even walk out of the theatre humming. The only reason not to is the audience having so forgotten how to listen properly to truly new work.
All in all a terrific show.
Bryony Lavery seems to have done a good job with the book, at least this time
she looks like having a hit on her hands. Well until now all I knew about her
was that she once wrote a flop play that earned itself an infamous entry in
both the Guinness Book Of Records and Trivial Pursuit.
Still this production of A Christmas Carol is quite outstanding. The
Chichester Youth Theatre sing and act well, under the direction of Dale
Rocks. There were a few minor diction faults, but these minor, and even
West End Stars do not always have perfect diction. Jenny Gould does a
fine job of conducting the band such that they play this music with the flair
it deserves. However, the best thing of
all about this show is they have commissioned a sparkling score. One which
really deserves a CD album. It could make a jolly fine Christmas album. In my
humble opinion the songs in this sparkling score would be a jolly sight better
than some of the tuneless popsical rubbish that seems to habitually turn up on
Listen to work by such
British composers as: Noel Coward, Vivian Ellis, Lionel
Monkton, Ivor Novello, Julian Slade, and, Arthur Sullivan;
or even Americans such as Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Cole
Porter, and, Kurt Weill, you might think that nobody writes stuff
like that any more, with the possible exceptions of Stephen Sondheim (in
American) and Howard Goodall (in Britian). Yet alongside Sondheim and
Goodall there is one other really brilliant composer, who writes to that sort
of high standard and that’s
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