A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 21st November, 2017
First version of the classic seasonal tale I’m seeing this year, this version’s staged by Bilston Operatic Company. Oddly, the programme doesn’t credit any writers or composers, not even Charles Dickens. A bit of research reveals the score is by the great Alan Menken. I would never have guessed – it’s hardly his best work.
It’s a rather sanitised, musical version with samey songs and everything happening at the same pace, but the show is not without its merits. There is a strong central performance from Nicholas Sullivan as the miserly Scrooge; reminiscent at first of the Child Catcher, he becomes more expressive and lively as the story unfolds. After a seemingly interminable opening number, things ironically come to life with the appearance of the ghost of Jacob Marley (Tim Jones in a spirited performance, flying high over a chorus of zombies…)
Lydia Tidmarsh sings well as the Ghost of Christmas Past – she deserves a more supernatural entrance rather than just strolling out from behind Scrooge’s bed. After the impressive Marley, the arrival of the other three ghosts is underplayed.
Jacob Kohli is in excellent voice as the Ghost of Christmas Present but his song becomes a weird production number in which the Victorian aesthetic is elbowed in favour of sequins, shorter skirts and tap shoes. It is here we see an inexplicable elephant, also in a skirt. WHY? I can’t think for the life of me. There is a nod to Dickens’s socialist agenda with an appearance by Ignorance and Want – sadly still rife in Tory Britain.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Be transforms from a blind beggar in a hooded cloak to a kind of exotic, acrobatic performer, all veils and sequins, like a belly dancer getting married. Again I ask WHY? Imogen Hall is undoubtedly a lovely mover but this interpretation robs the role of the terror it must strike into Scrooge’s withered heart.
There is clearly no money in the Cratchit household for Tiny Tim to have singing lessons but Harry Lewis performs the role with such gusto, he wins us over. Confidence is half the battle.
There is some nice character work from Stephen Burton-Pye and Alison Inns as the Fezziwigs and an underused Sarah Houghton as Mrs Mops.
Everyone seems to be putting in a lot of effort but the crowd scenes lack focus – all the more important when your chorus is so populous. On the whole though, the germ of Dickens’s perennial morality tale comes through and events reach their sentimental but satisfying conclusion in a production that tries hard, means well and doesn’t outstay its welcome.