It was a Dickensian night in Dublin as we hustled towards the Grand Canal Theatre, skating under the shadows of empty buildings, and reeling from the austerity of the budget and the winter.
Rarely can the story of A Christmas Carol have been told in more auspicious a context. As poor Bob Cratchit (Morgan Crowley) pleaded with Ebenezer Scrooge for time off for Christmas Day, and as his wife later protested that Cratchit hadn’t had a raise in eight years, I doubt there were many in the audience (those over the age of 18, at least) who didn’t give a wry smile at the unflattering parallels with our current plight.
But this is a production that works to dispel such allusions, rather than indulging them. From the robust choruses of Leslie Bricusse’s score (which originated as a film in 1970, and was nominated for an Oscar), to the ornate decrepitude of Paul Farnsworth’s sets, to the radiant affection of the star, Tommy Steele, for his character, Scrooge, this is a Christmas Carol firmly intent on spreading good cheer.
Steele, an astonishing 73, was a pop star by 1956, and has been in pantos and musicals for over 50 years. His Scrooge seems a chronic grump rather than an irredeemable miser. With his evident love of a tune, and his Carry On-style tendency for a wink and a nod to the audience, he is fey rather than frightening. But he is also terrific fun.
And in a production distinguished by some fantastic scary moments and ghostly special effects, Steele’s reassuring winks may be just what is needed to keep the show from scaring the younger members of the audience out of the theatre.
Scrooge is faithful both to Dickens and to the West End: a great story, well told, designed to send you home looking forward to Christmas rather than fearing your next payslip.