Scrooge, London Palladium


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The Independent Culture

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