Scrooge, London Palladium
Thursday 08 November 2012
Tommy Steele is not the first performer that you'd associate with Dickens's misanthropic old tight-wad - a man described in A Christmas Carol as "hard and sharp as flint...secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster".
But you don't have to wait too long for a flash of that trade-mark grin in Leslie Bricusse's relentlessly bland and cheery musical version of the story. And when it comes, it's a spectacle which suggests that, for all his miserliness, this Scrooge has not economised on the dental work.
Steele has been reprising his star turn intermittently for the past seven years. Now, in Bob Tomson's animated, beautifully lit production, the 75 year old trouper finally gets to bring it to the venue where he holds the record as a headliner. He is still in his element working this huge house and his singing voice is in relatively good nick.
But beginning with Christmas carols harmonised round chestnut-roasting braziers by well-scrubbed, theme-park Victorians and ending with Scrooge as a gift-distributing Santa, Scrooge is a show that keeps substituting gooey sentiment and knees-up Cockney jollity for the unsettling strangeness of the original.
Converted here into a money-lender, Steele's Scrooge potters round the stage like an arthritic penguin, nicking tanners from child beggars and hi-jacking Punch-and-Judy shows as he calls in his debts. But he's not remotely scary or sufficiently unlikeable and he never conveys a man struck to his permafrosted soul by what he learns via the visiting spirits. This is no fault, it should be stressed, of Paul Kieve's authentically shiver-inducing illusions which magic ghosts out of thin air and from spinning armchairs and show them melting through mirrors back to the beyond.
Veering between the chirpy and the saccharine, the songs resolutely fail to illuminate or amplify our sense of Scrooge's spiritually transformative journey. Apart from the odd outbreak of genuine catchiness (as in the rousing “Thank You Very Much”), Bricusse's tunes aren't even over before you've forgotten them. And as for the lyrics – did I really hear “December the Twenty-Fifth” rhymed with “kin and kith” in the deeply irritating number of that title?
Concluding with a fall of snow and the sight of St Paul's, the experience feels a bit like being force-fed mince pies for a couple of hours. “Are you looking forward to Christmas?” a lingering Tommy asked us at the end. Answer, in my case: slightly less so now.
To 12 Jan; 0844 412 4655
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Catwoman comes out as bisexual
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Justin Kelly interview: On James Franco playing a gay man who renounces his homosexuality
Grace Dent on TV: Mary Portas: Secret Shopper delves into a grim cornucopia of retail wrongness
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts