Review – A Christmas Carol: The Pantomime

December 5, 2013 | By | Reply More

✭✭✭✩✩   Assured musicality

Charles Dickens (George Mackie) and his son What-the Dickens (Johnny Gemmel). Photo © Mario Cruzado

Charles Dickens (George Mackie) and his son What-the Dickens (Johnny Gemmel). Photo © Mario Cruzado

Church Hill Theatre
Wed 4 – Sat 7 December 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Accomplished and enjoyable, Balerno Theatre Company’s staging of A Christmas Carol – The Pantomime is an entertaining if ultimately somewhat patchy production.

That somewhat unwieldy title hints at a certain lack of decisiveness; despite being introduced by Charles Dickens, this is not the original story. Instead, it purports to be the story of Scrooge’s ‘nephew’ Russell Sprout.

It is never entirely clear why writers Audrey Jones, Hamish McCool and Michael Davies felt this change to be necessary, especially since much of the storyline echoes the original, even using some of the original dialogue. Some of the alterations that have been made – the Cratchits apparently becoming Sprout’s own family, for example – go unexplained and do not entirely make sense.

Of course, being a pantomime, the story does not remain solely in Sprout’s world for long, spiralling off into hints of other pantos, not to mention Back To The Future. Indeed, the farther the production strays from its original premise, the stronger it is, achieving most clearly the coherent yet lunatic logic of the best pantomimes.

There is a great deal of song, dance and comedy on show, all displaying a sure touch. Certainly most people will find something to please them. Indeed, there is too much crammed in; the show is 20-30 minutes too long, and the second half in particular drags in parts despite the variety of entertainment on offer and Michael Davies’s accomplished direction.

Its comedy performances are a particular strength. Brian Grieve, as Camp ‘Arry, displays excellent comic timing and a great rapport with the audience, while Paul Calder and Adrian Smith, as the Ugly Sisters-like Margarita Mix and Tina Colada, provide hugely broad and unforgiving funny performances. However, they would all have more impact if used more sparingly.

Topical references and near-the-knuckle humour

Their appearances as the Three Spirits (or cocktails) may hark back to the original story, but just confuses matters. The three of them work well together, however, and provide enough in the way of topical references and near-the-knuckle humour, while their final Twelve Days of Christmas routine, dissolving as it does into hilarious chaos, is classic panto, complete with sweetie-throwing.

There are some tremendously staged musical numbers, with Lindsay McGlade’s choreography making efficient use of a huge chorus. Once again, however, at least one of the routines could profitably have been cut, while the numbers featuring smaller groups of performers work better than the full ensemble pieces.

There is a certain, indefinable feeling of musical theatre to the production, rather than traditional pantomime. A feeling which is reinforced by Christopher Cameron’s transformation from a cramped, crabbit Sprout into a full-blown, handwaving, Broadway performer. This is extremely impressive, but not much more lovable than his earlier persona. Overall, the musical numbers, like the whole show, need a little more in the way of audience participation of the singalong variety.

Some of the performers suffer from the impression that their characters have been added to give them something to do rather than because they add to the story, but others stand out, particularly some of the younger actors.

Ashley Davies, as heroine Carol Christmas, displays a strong singing voice, while Kirsten Keggie shows real promise as her little sister Eve. Katy Williamson’s wounded dignity as fairy Miss Elle Toe is beautifully judged. Musical Director Dougie Flower and his band are hugely impressive, if at times threatening to overpower the singers.

Much of the production is very impressive, even if it sometimes lacks that sprinkling of magic which marks out the best pantomimes. Paradoxically, this may be because it is so well drilled and well planned that the audience can feel more impressed than involved.

Running time 2 hrs 35 mins including interval
Run ends Saturday 7 December 2013
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat 2.00 pm
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Details from: www.balernotheatre.co.uk

Balerno TC in rehearsal for A Chistmas Carol - The Pantomime. Photo © Michael Davies

Balerno TC in rehearsal for A Chistmas Carol – The Pantomime. Photo © Michael Davies

ENDS

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