An Edinburgh Christmas Carol – The Royal Lyceum

Adapted and Directed by Tony Cownie

From the novel by Charles Dickens

Instilling our most cherished festive tale, with the façade of our fair city, should be a winning combination which sits alongside holly and ivy, wine and mistletoe or the Queen’s Speech and a power nap. An Edinburgh Christmas Carol places Ebenezer Scrooge, the original curmudgeon, on the cold, cobbled streets of Edinburgh, where he may bump into a few familiar faces. In recent years The Royal Lyceum has taken us to Neverland, to Wonderland and even into Narnia, but nothing feels quite as right as being on your doorstep.

The script, largely, perhaps too large, remains unchanged. With the inclusion of Greyfriars’ Bobby providing wonderfully inventive puppetry and a few gags to boot, the story of A Christmas Carol has been stuck onto the streets of Edinburgh. Crawford Logan is, an approachable Scrooge. Miserable as ever, there’s a distinct lack of animosity, as the performance is rich and has conviction, he’s an absolute fit for an Edinburgh Scrooge, but there’s a needed edge to Logan’s characterisation. We find it difficult to buy into his postulations of the workhouse, decreasing the surplus populations and the stories darker moments. Herein is the key issue you may find, Tony Cownie’s adaptation is just too sweet to stomach. 

An overlying view of the production’s intention, and one’s taste with dictate your enjoyment of An Edinburgh’s Christmas Carol. The calibre of the Lyceum’s Christmas productions is of tremendous standard, which subverts the usual paradigms we view with a text. Whether this is Peter Pan from the perspective of Wendy, or Alice in Wonderland, emphasising the macabre outlook, the psychosis of the drama and the absurdity. An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, by extension, is rather safe. There is nothing wholly offensive to the production, it is by and large an entertaining, festive production which warms the heart which beats beneath the chortling chest – but substantially removes itself from Dicken’s, or even Auld Reekie’s haunted past.

For first and foremost, A Christmas Carol is a ghost story. And in quite the turn-about, it is neither the haunting apparition of Christmas Future, nor the nostalgic pains of Past which are the memorable performances, but rather the often-overlooked Ghost of Christmas Present, or rather ingeniously, The Ghost of Christmas Nouadays. Steven McNicoll is the quintessential being of mirthful jolly, with his red sack and ginger beard, Nouadays is the epitome of a Scottish Christmas. McNichol’s presence brings a needed vitality to the spirit realm, following an unmemorable Ghost of Langsyne, and the grim prospects of the Ghost of Ayont from Eva Traynor and Taqi Nazeer.

The ingenuity for this Spectre, Ayont, a headless drummer boy is colossal in imagination, though also in size. As his rhythmic beats echo into the night, this is the section of the tale we sadists enjoy. The warnings Scrooge endures, the fate which may befall the selfish man as he realises the suffering he has caused and the path to redemption. The prevalent issue of tone direction is at its most evident here, where the production still cannot grasp the haunting of Dicken’s classic with Cownie’s direction. As Scrooge, in what should be his final moments of crushing realisation against the sombre beat of a headless drummer, sits jarringly lost among uneven humour and awkward delivery.

This humour, which strays into Pantomime territory at times, dips from over-the-top, obvious and into misplaced. Choice gags, which should be hitting the rafters, fall short at the audiences’ feet as a few timing issues pervade. In tune with every ounce of the humour, running away with the loudest, most significant deliveries is Grant O’Rourke. His performance is distinctive, even against the choruses onstage. The moments are short but considerably steady in appearances. His chemistry with the puppets is fluid, responding to Edie Edmundson’s puppetry naturally and with exceptional effect.

Tiny Tim, as tiny, as can be, is a scale rod-puppet along with Bobby the dug, the very same of Greyfriars’ Kirkyard fame. Cownie has spliced Bobby rather well with the story, a sprinkling of flavour rather than a forceful injection of a narrative. It’s a connection with the community, and the craft of the puppets matches the technical levels of stage design.

What we have is a decent production, akin to those gifts we receive from aunts and uncles; pleasant, harmless, but fails to live up to expectations. Now, these are not the words of a Scrooge. The implication is that such tremendous talent, innovative design-work and ideas seem to have been watered down. It’s frustrating, given Tony Cownie’s strikingly sensational works with The Belle’s Stratagem and Thon Man Molière that An Edinburgh Christmas Carol fails to hit the right notes, there seems to have been pulled punches out of worry from Edinburgh’s most dreadful force – middle-class parents. 

An Edinburgh Christmas Carol runs at The Royal Lyecum until January 4th 2020. Tickets available here:

Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

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