How The Grinch Stole Christmas – Festival Theatre

Based on the book by Dr Seuss

Adaptation and Lyrics by Timothy Mason

Music by Mel Marvin

It’s November, we hear you say, so what, who cares? Christmas is on the way. How better to celebrate, than with a children’s classic, so join The Grinch for some Dr Seuss magic. Suffice to say, rhymes may feature throughout – but please, try not to pout.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas has proven itself a timeless literary classic from America’s Dr Seuss. Its simplistic narrative of the callous Grinch, who thieves away Cindy Lou and the rest of Whoville’s Christmas has gone from popularity to an icon of the Christmas period. Now, making a UK premiere from Broadway, this musical production seeks to grow the hearts of an Edinburgh audience three-times over, no mean feat indeed…

Deliciously vile, seething with mean, Baker-Duly goes an extra mile, especially clad in green. The titular Grinch is now as iconic a symbol of the festive season as his Victorian counterpart Ebenezer Scrooge. Everything is sumptuously perfect in Edward Baker-Duly’s take on the fuzzy monstrosity, he’s the bad guy we all love to hate, but at the end of it, his characterisation goes far and beyond expectations. His physicality is transformative, this is no performer – this is the Dr Seuss character, and while mannerisms have no doubt been borrowed from the famous Jim Carrey take, Baker-Duly goes for a less juvenile, sarky incarnation of the role. Though the musical nature of the production has it’s swings and misses, his solo performance of One of a Kind is decadently hilarious, striking all the correct notes. There is though, one rather infamous number, which stands out above the rest – for could you stage a Grinch musical without a rendition of Thurls Ravenscroft’s You’re A Mean One?

With plenty of tricks and vocals to spare, our old dog may prosper, but the younger misses by a hair. Taking the narration away from Gregor Fisher, for some reason, How The Grinch Stole Christmas is told to us, in verse, by Old Max, The Grinch’s berated dog companion reflecting back on how his Master’s lack of compassion led him to once steal the holiday cheer from those merry, if disgustingly chipper Whos of Whoville. Steve Fortune is adorable in the role, and his solo numbers reveal a compelling control which overcomes any issues of the live band drowning out the rest. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable role, with good humour and heart, but unfortunately the same cannot be extended to Young Max. Taking the collar for Max’s younger self, Matt Terry is fully capable of the role but is trying too hard, to the extent he feels unnatural, almost appearing to seek out the spotlight.

Now let it be said, quite often child-performers are something to dread. Then one comes along with exceptional ability, who outshines the adults and offers some humility. Young rising start Isla Gie fits in well with the adult Whos, but the reality is that she overcasts them. In no fault of Gie’s, this is a tremendous compliment to a young performer who captures the pathos of the narrative and holds her vocals splendidly. She shows how some of the older performers aren’t up to scratch in comparison, a few creating awkward scene transitions with an otherwise well-constructed set by John Lee Beatty.

It isn’t all about actors we do have to say, for there are behind-the-scenes creators whose respect we must pay. Illustrative in construct, complimentary in tone, Beatty’s set work is a tribute to the storybook all on its own. Complimenting the storybook decor superbly, Pat Collins lustrous lighting casts extraordinary colours against the monochrome.

Not without fault, The Grinch shines ever so bright, decked out in green, it’s rather a sight. For the occasions where How The Grinch Stole Christmas may slip on a greasy black banana peel, it counteracts with mirthful performers but feels the necessity to rely on tropes in a futile attempt to grasp at a younger audience, who are already invested in the timeless tale. Where it sticks to its roots, with rejuvenation from aesthetics and brilliant costume design courteously of Robert Morgan, The Grinch is stealing more than baubles and trees, but accelerating young hearts and old imaginations.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas runs at The Festival Theatre until December 1st. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/how-the-grinch-stole-christmas-the-musical

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/how-the-grinch-stole-christmas-the-musical-festival-theatre-edinburgh/

The Season – The Royal & Derngate

Direction by Tim Jackson

Book & Music and Lyrics by Kit Buchan and Jim Barne

Ah, to be in New York for Christmas. To see the lights, soak in the smells of the chestnuts and hot-dog vendors as the flutters of snowfall scatter the heads and coats of the wealthy. Ice-skating in central park, dinner at the Ritz and horse-drawn rides across the cold cobbles, basking in the orange glow of streetlamps. What an utter crock. Kit Buchan’s new musical The Season takes our fetishism of the holiday season, not so far as satirising the genre, but inventively tying a classical Christmas narrative with sarcastic silver tongues, modern themes and honest, blunt views on the obsessive nature we have with the ‘perfect’ Chrsitmas image. 

Travelling over four-thousand miles to finally meet his father, Dougal is a young, naïve man whose thirst for life equals his sense of adventure for those classic movie’s set in the snowscapes of a New York Christmas. He’s adorable, but you may still feel the need to choke him out. Alex Cardall captures the innocence of a man whose need for validation, his delivery thrives with energy, leaping as though his feet strike fire with each landing. He’s the perfect counter-balance of traditional cheer against coffee server Robin’s grim, sarcastic bleakness.

Tis the season of sass for Robin, though this seems to be a year-round trend for her. By and large, Tori Allen-Martin goes beyond the cold stereotypes of a festive Scrooge, into a disenchanted woman whose rejection of the holiday stems from more than simple irritation at the cheer which surrounds it. What is so utterly superb about Allen-Martin, and Buchan’s writing is that Robin is a woman, living a woman’s life. This isn’t a perfectly envisioned stereotype, with brimming white smiles, slathered across the posters for ‘kooky’ Christmas productions. Instead, openly stating that Robin’s career as a waitress isn’t concealing a midnight romance of acting or writing, Robin is a woman who is surviving.

This is The Season’s resolute stance on the genre, where happy endings are an option, but not the fairytale of New York styles of Hallmark T.V. Families aren’t always necessarily where we end-up for the holidays, and the balance of our two leads keeps the other from delving too deep into extremes. Robin’s misery is relatable, bouncing off of Dougal’s optimism, dragging him into tolerance, as the role could easily slip into irritatingly chipper. Their growing connection is genuine, as we keep romance at bay, for the most part, learning from one another and furthering their development. With surprising growth from both leads, in no doubt largely down to talented performers and Tim Jackson’s direction.

And while guilty of exposition, Kit Buchan’s script rarely dips once we move beyond the 15-minute mark. Indeed, the second act is a superior piece in timing, particularly for its comedy, to the extent the production may benefit from trimming to an extended single act production. Allen-Martin and Cardall are fully capable of carrying the production for the two-act structure, but this isn’t to say the audience can maintain the same pacing. There’s little which couldn’t be trimmed from the production’s opening. Trimming this exposition would further enhance the refusal the production has to conform with tropes, obvious cliche’s and bolster an ending which refuses to end in the way one may expect.

Sometimes the greatest love stories don’t last forever, but only a single day. The Season has a modernist narrative, which still captures the characteristics of British romantic comedies, with just enough New York sensationalism of those 80s’ Meg Ryan classics. It’s as much a piece for theatre goers as it is cinephiles, echoing an obsessive adoration for American visuals. The Season flares the embers of an emotional production, without resorting to cheap tactics, it’s an interestingly written musical, with numbers which may not live forever in our minds, but there has been an impact with solo pieces, courtesy of Cardall’s humour and Allen-Martin’s commanding, emotive vocals. 

Right now, Last Christmas is a herald of current, modern Christmas media, but to find genuine innovation, turn to the theatre for The Season’s tribute’s to festive classics, while generating it’s own path with a fresher palette of relatable, human characters rather than the standard representations musical theatre is guilty of. It might be November, but sod-it, shove some vodka in the thermos, shake those snow globes and jingle them bells, The Season takes a dash of pessimism and fuels a show with fresh, snide joy which is infectiously warm, humourous and heartfelt. 

The Season runs at Royal & Derngate Theatre until November 30th. Tickets are available from: https://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/whats-on/the-season/

Photo Credit – Pamela Raith

Edinburgh Gang Show – King’s Theatre

Directed by Andy Johnston

Musical Direction by Andrew Thomson

Dance Direction by Louise Williamson

Once a year, chaos, music, dance, fabulous costumes, and those young at heart or young in years descend upon The King’s Theatre to light up the frosted evenings of the capital – and the Panto doesn’t even start until next month. No, this time we’re talking about one of Edinburgh’s illustrious performance groups which stands along with The Bohemians or Southern Light as the peak of amateur theatre – The Edinburgh Gang Show. For over sixty shows now, the gang has been an integral part of the cities theatrical heritage, with no signs of slowing in this slew of vibrant majesty. 

At first, the array of performers on stage have their difficulties working with such volume in numbers, but overcome these issues remarkably, having a reliable understanding of the stage. Andy Johnston has always had an uncanny ability to bring together a wealth of Scouts and Girl Guides, drawing together gang shows of past, present and even glimmers of the future. This 60th show contains all of the gags, nudges and football jabs you may expect, but there have to be a few surprises lurking beneath all those jazz hands and gooey gowns.

Continuing to capitalise on Louise Williamson’s choreography, the gang pay tribute to the dames and dappers of Hollywood’s past, with a spectacular movement piece to the classics of musical theatre. There isn’t exactly structure to the production, more a showcase of talent which bleeds into the next – sometimes with no explanation, other times with an acknowledging gag to the lack of coherent connection. An honest admission, it still causes a few bumps and grinds to the flow which, yes, can be overlooked, but needn’t necessarily have been issues to begin.

So what you might expect is dancing, there may even be a few songs, but variety is a core element of The Gang Show. So yes, these jokes are meant to be bad, the puns are the height of dad humour – and we adore every second of it. It must be said though, that whilst the humour takes a back seat to the other talents, especially some exceptional dance routines, we get the occasional bout of originality, and a few choice celebrity guests from William Wallace to The First Minister and a certain chart-topping Scot whose love for crisps might rival his adoration for number 1 spots. Singing Someone You Loved, Mackenzie Woolard captures the tone of the song marvellously in a number to be proud of, characterising Lewis Capaldi rather well. Nowhere though, does the seamless blending of gags and vocals merge quite so well than a trip to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world-renowned feline musical.

Alisa Maclean’s rendition of Memory, a pinnacle of musical theatre’s illustrious history, is given a fantastically inventive twist which we daren’t spoil. Not only are the vocals rather sublime, but the goings-on, decisions and timing are exceptional. Offering a break in the tumultuous number of routines, this brief snippet showcases the vaudeville stylings of the gang marvellously, with the ‘stage-hands’ causing as much mischief as they find physically achieve. Indeed, along with the likes of Tatiana Honeywell’s subdued, spellbindingly impressive performance of I Wanna Dance with Somebody, which showcases the team’s most elegant choreography, this evening is very much in the hands of the ladies.

Shaking things up a bit from the straight routines and belting it out for the women in the audience, Kelsey Main strikes out with Speechless, meanwhile Jessica Lyall who too performs during the Medieval Mayhem segment, who has so far been dominating the stage with fluid footwork, turns towards a vocal performance as she and Main show the ‘lads’ of the round table just how it’s done. This said, the male dancers, a few of whom have been paying attention to their toe-points such as Andrew Brown, have the makings of terrific dancers, particularly for comedy routines as they treat us to a little unexpected Spamalot leading up to the show’s climax.

What a finale, a solo performance from young Matthew Knowles whose performance of I’ll Always Remember You This Way gives a brief chill of a future career in the arts. Marvellous control, which sets up the farewell to a few members who, like Brown, will be leaving the gang this year, but in their place, they leave behind a legacy of achievements, memories and hope that the future performers will match their dedication and canny. 

And as a 60th year closes for The Edinburgh Gang Show, bright prospects for Scottish theatre remain. A wealth of talent, across all moulds of the stage, there’s a rich community making a stamp on Edinburgh’s history, and evidently, it’s future. From the smallest soprano to the older twinkle-toes, mirthful in enthusiasm, this 60th show serves as it does every other year, to showcase the capital’s talent, spirit and community.

The Edinburgh Gang Show runs at The King’s Theatre until Saturday 23rd. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/gangshow

Photo Credit – Ryan Buchanan