Scrooge, Palladium, London

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The Independent Culture

The author, lyricist and composer is Leslie Bricusse. And while this is perfectly reasonable seasonal entertainment, it is struck through with mediocre intentions. Good manners and benevolent instincts win the day, which is not exactly Charles Dickens' original point, though not too deviant a suggestion. In his 19th-century Christmas stories Dickens suggested a process of redemption through fear.

Where Bricusse's finally flaccid musical - a 1970 film starring Albert Finney - joins hands with Dickens is in its unapologetic sentimentality. And there are scary bits, as when the appalling grey figure of old Jacob Marley (delightfully camp Barry Howard, he of Hi-De-Hi! fame) materialises behind a closed door, having first appeared like a hologram in the knocker.

The greatest feat of resuscitation, though, is that of Tommy Steele as Scrooge, a grinning hobbledehoy with a completely unconvincing nasty streak. Lank-haired and trim as a butcher's dog, Steele reclaims the Palladium stage as of right. He is, after all, the longest-serving headline performer in this hallowed arena and has paid his dues.

Dickens provided the structure for a show with the visitations of the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future - the Present phantom is a wonderfully medieval Bacchus in the shape of James Head - and Bob Thomson's well-worn but efficient and passably spectacular production (simultaneously revived this winter in Bristol and Oxford) is given a real charge of adrenalin by the star and the big, willing cast.

Bricusse writes good theatre music, in that he knows how to move scenes along and touch the dramatic highlight, but none of it really grabs you. That there is nothing more nauseating than a happy family at Christmas may be a sentiment to be applauded, but the vision of the Cratchits, playing down Scrooge's nastiness to them, paid off with a giant turkey, is probably not the happy ending we want or expect nowadays.

To 14 January (0870 145 1163).

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