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Even that miserable old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, couldn't put a damper on this stunning Christmas show in which the cast received a deserved standing ovation at the final curtain.
Based on the classic Charles Dickens story, the happy-ending musical really is a home made success, cleverly put together by the theatre's artistic director Adrian Jackson - whose musical arrangement stamp is on the action is obvious - and he is also the producer.
More than a year's work has gone into this version of A Christmas Carol, written and directed by Ian Adams, and if anyone is concerned that it's not a pantomime, the fears are quickly dispelled.
Adams even turns up on stage multi-tasking as the ghosts of Jacob Marley, Christmas Past, Present and Future. And is that Michael Jackson dancing with some evil-looking ghouls?
It's colourful, amusing, with slick special effects, good sets and music that the young and old can enjoy, and even ice skating on stage!
No audience participation is required in this production....except for providing regular applause.
Graham Cole, of The Bill fame, who began his theatre career as a holiday camp red coat, is a splendid Scrooge, a grumpy old skinflint at the start, but turning into a good guy with the help of some very interesting ghosts pointing out the error of his ways.
Special effects are impressive, though the shadowy figure behind a screen as Marley's ghost levitates on a chair, shouldn't be seen by the audience.
Owain Williams is excellent as Young Scrooge and Fred and there are fine performances, too, from Lucy Jane Quinlan (Jenny and Isobel) and Alex Wadham (Bob Cratchit, Mr Fezziwig and Old Joe).
The children in the show sparkle throughout, and there is a lovely finish with a string of happy Christmas songs as real-looking snow falls on the cast, and people in the stalls.
A Christmas cracker that sends people home with a big smile. To 02-01-12
Published Wednesday 7 December 2011
This show is almost too good to be confined to a small Staffordshire theatre. In truth it deserves to be seen by a wider audience and would not look out of place on the West End stage. That's all credit to the in-house production team, under the leadership of the Garrick's artistic director Adrian Jackson, whose foresight and imagination have resulted in a spectacular success.
From the tip-top costumes to the fabulous scenery, the production values are immense. The show has class written all over it and, happily, the performers do justice to their lavish surroundings.
While the show has its dramatic moments, director Ian Adams has opted for a generally lighter touch than is usually the case with Dickens. Scrooge is never too nasty and the storytelling never too dark. Rather, this is largely a fun all-singing, all-dancing affair with some truly magical moments.
Graham Cole, formerly of The Bill, has a fine singing voice and is ideal for this Ebenezer. The many scene changes glide as smoothly as do the dancers when they don their ice skates.
It's a show with a real Christmas spirit, concluding in a foot-tapping medley of everyone's favourite seasonal songs and an audience-covering snow storm to boot.
The Garrick looks like it has another home-grown, Christmas hit on its hands with this light hearted look at Charles Dickens's Christmas ghost story.
Taking the 1843 dark, horror classic and turning it into a family alternative to a ‘look out he's behind you' panto without scaring youngsters out of their wits means there has to be compromises and a light touch to what is meant to be a frightening story.
So for a start it is turned into a musical, all singing and all dancing and filled with fun and then Graham Cole, he of The Bill, produces a Scrooge who is a curmudgeonly, grumpy old man rather than the stone-hearted, miserly money-lender intended by Dickens. A misery rather than a miserable monster.
This Scrooge, a banker remember if you want to get the boos in early, shows a decided reluctance to be a lifelong bastion of evil and is ready for redemption as soon as the first ghost appears, the ghost of Christmas past, dearie, played by the show's writer and director Ian Adams who is a renowned Pantomime Dog - that's a Great Dame to me and you (Boom! Boom! . . . or groan, please yourself)
Thus we have a ghostly Christmas Past in a frock with a sort of beacon bouffant glowing away and there are even a few panto jokes thrown in to brighten up young Ebenezer's school days.
Adams tops that though with the Ghost of Christmas Present dressed in traditional St Nicholas green until he removes the heavy cloak to reveal a red Santa suit and launches into a tap extravaganza which takes us into the realms of Busby Berkeley with the excellent chorus - and dozens of other parts - of Jonny Fines, Dayle Hodge, Chris Neumann, Zoe Pembroke, Sarah Riches and Jessica Spalis.
Tap was a dying art but it is seeing a resurgence these days which is no bad thing. The six of the ensemble showed more multi-tasking with a display of ice skating on a stage which doubles as a dry rink. They also pop up as six street dancing ghosts, a feature which Mr Dickens presumable forgot to slip into the original.
The Ghost of Christmas yet to come though is a much more sombre affair, a tall, silent ghoul, who lets the future speak for itself with Tiny Tim (Ben Edwards) passed away and Scrooge unmourned and unloved wheeled off to his tomb in celebration with not even a hint of sadness.
Alex Wadham brings a cheery disposition to Bob Cratchit, and Mr Fezziwig incidentally, while Owain Williams as the young Scrooge, and Scrooge's nephew Fred, is not only congenitally nice and cheerful all the time but shows a fine singing voice.
Music is a strong point of the show which is produced by the Garrick's Executive and Artistic Director Adrian Jackson. That is his current day job.
He is also an internationally known conductor and arranger and even has his own philharmonic orchestra which explains why there are some top class arrangements making old numbers sound fresh and original for the excellent David Harvey on keyboards.
Rachael Pennell is a regular at the Garrick with her own plays and gives us the contrasting Mrs Cratchit, trying to bring up her brood on Bob's miserly wages, the happy Mrs Fezziwig and the humble Mrs Dilber, housekeeper to Scrooge, who shows her true feelings once the old skinflint is dead and she flogs his nightshirt, stripped from his cold body, and his bedding to Old Joe, (Alex Wadham again) who appears to be on his way to a Fagin reunion night.
All credit to many of the cast incidentally who play several roles. By a mix of make up and acting it is only when looking in the programme that you realise the cast of thousands has come down to half a dozen or so.
The Garrick does not have the zillions to spend on special effects that big, West End productions manage but did its bit with the ghost of Marley, Scrooge's old partner (Ian Adams again) gliding up and down a wall on a chair and Marley's animated face appearing on a doorknocker, which was particularly nifty, and there is lots of dry ice, sound effects and dramatic lighting - the Cratchet's stove even has smoke coming from it's chimney.
The sets from John Brooking were simple and effective, a few pushes, turns and folds and whole scenes changed with minimal delay and Brooking's costumes looked the part as well, very Victorian.
I am not quite sure why three singing pigs and a ventriloquist's monkey appeared - twice! But hey, it keeps the kids happy, and Christmas is a magical time for them.
Unlike last year's Peter Pan, another excellent home-grown Christmas show, this is perhaps aimed more at an older audience - seven or so up rather than toddlers.
There is no audience participation or involvement, you are there to be entertained and the excellent cast manage that pretty well, keeping the bones of the original tale intact although Dickens does go out of the window at the end with a sing song medley of Christmas numbers while the audience sit in a blizzard with snow falling gently from the ceiling; a festive and fun end to a stylish panto alternative.
A standing ovation showed what the audience thought of a show well worthy of a wider exposure than just Lichfield. To 02-01-12
A tap dancing Santa, snow flurries, actors skating on ice and a levitating ghost are just some of the highlights of this year's Lichfield Garrick pantomine.
Following on from last year's record breaking Peter Pan success this year the theatre has plumped for the Charles Dickens classic of A Christmas Carol, which runs until January 2.
Written and directed by Garrick dame favourite Ian Adams, who plays the ghosts of Bob Marley, Christmas past, present and future, it's another professional and quality production.
The Bill star, Graham Cole, takes centre stage as the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, which he portrays perfectly and convincingly.
While my six-year-old son was not fazed by the darker scenes of the production, my four-year-old daughter was scared by Bob Marley's ghost and larger than life spirit of Christmas future and needed a reassuring cuddle while she hid her face.
But she loved all the singing, dancing, impressive costumes and sets and thought that the flurries of snow which fell onto the stage were magical.
As well as praiseworthy acting, key cast members also proved to have great singing voices too, including Alex Wadham (Bob Cratchit/Mr Fezziwig/Old Joe), Lucy Jane Quinlan (Jenny/Isobel) and Rachael Pennell (Mrs Cratchit/Mrs Dilbher/Mrs Fezziwig), although Owain Williams (Young Scrooge/Fred) was by far the most impressive.
After sombre scenes with the spirit of Christmas future the panto rounds off with a medley of classic Christmas songs. And to further end on a cheery festive note a heavy flurry of snow fell into the audience to the sheer delight of my two young children.
Tickets: 01543 412121 or www.lichfieldgarrick.com.
The magic and spirits of Christmas have truly arrived in Lichfield this festive season. The colourful and musical show grabs the audince from the very moment the curtains open and the classic take of the timeless Dickens story is a must for adults and children alike.
With fantastic lighting, creative staging and colourful costumes - with even some snow and ice skating thrown in for good measure, it is a must see for anyone wanting to get into the spirit of Christmas.
Stealing the show was Ian Adams as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, along with Graham Cole as the ever-grumpy Scrooge. But with the cast really pulling together in the songs and dances, and some great performances by the younger members, it was a very enjoyable evening.
Will Ebenezer ever see the error of his ways? Will Tiny Tim see another Christmas? And will the true meaning of the season ever be found? Well, there is only one way to find out.
Well the big question after years of Christmas hit shows was always going to be, could they do it again? It's one of the perils of the profession - every success means you have to go one better.
And I'm pleased to report the answer is yes, with nobs on. Because the Garrick's Christmas Carol turns out to be one of the most thought-provoking and satisfying evenings I've spent in the theatre for a long time. This is not just a panto but a fully-fledged musical which took a year to bring to the stage, and the hard work shows.
It's a challenge to stage this Dickens classic with its unfashionable moral that money ain't everything, especially in a medium governed by production costs. But Ian Adams has managed to do something incredibly clever in adapting this dense old-fashioned tale with its rather dark first half into a modern all-singing, all-dancing spectacular that still retains the idea that kindness and generosity to others is the true spirit of Christmas.
Yet Mr. Adams doesn't get bogged down in sentiment. Instead his book and direction cleverly provide something for everyone. So there are songs and plenty of them, original music by Musical Supervisor Adrian Jackson, lots of dancing with really good dancers including one particular tap-dancing episode that's really the biz.
He adds some awe-inspiring special effects including giant puppets and hologramic illusions, an ice-skating sequence, throws in humour, bags of it, he's found fab costumes and some very convincing snow, and snow gets me every time. He underpins the whole with some very clever sets by designer John Brooking and voila! or as Ian would say, vada! - he's created a please-em-all hit package, a big show in a charmingly intimate theatre. It could tour Britain for years.
Ian Adams himself confirms what a truly marvellous all-round entertainer he is from his chillingly tormented Jacob Marley to what must be the campest Christmas Ghost on record with a La Rue-style frock and a wig that lights up. Bet Lynch must be spinning in her grave. Well, it is Christmas.
Alex Wadham has charm and real authority as Bob Cratchit while Rachael Pennell does a good line in wry comedy as his missus. Bill star Graham Cole turns in a very satisfying Scrooge the all-time Christmas baddy whose change of heart provides a charming conclusion to the plot.
The final lively Christmas medley of all your favourite Xmas tunes ended the evening on a tide of generosity from both sides of the footlights. I left the theatre certain I'd had a pretty good night out.
If you fancy an all-singing, all-dancing show with heart, pathos and comedy combined you really can't do better this Yule. As Tiny Tim says, Merry Christmas everyone.
A Christmas Carol runs at the Lichfield Garrick, including morning and afternoon performances until January 2, 2012. For tickets phone the box office on 01543 412121 or book online at www.lichfieldgarrick.com.