Curve Theatre, Leicester – until 7 January 2018
Made At Curve is a brand name that is growing in traction. Producers Michael Harrison and David Ian have a canny eye for what will make a successful show and Scrooge The Musical is their latest partnership with Leicester’s Curve that sees the theatre’s Artistic Director Nikolai Foster helm a thoughtfully crafted take on the Leslie Bricusse show.
It all makes for classic festive fayre with Bricusse’s original work, last seen some 15 years ago, being subtly re-engineered for this revival. Jasper Britton (and Curve Board Member) heads the cast in the title role, convincing us throughout of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. As he is visited by the spirit of his dead business partner Jacob Marley and then the three ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, we believe in Britton’s Scrooge learning to sip the milk of human kindness and to redeem himself.
Around Britton there are no co-leading roles, rather an ensemble of wonderful quality. Notable in the company are an enchanting Lauren Stroud who doubles up as both the fiancée of the young Ebenezer in times past and as the current wife of his nephew Harry; Anton Stephans turns in a crackingly fizzing take as the Ghost Of Christmas Present; while Danny-Boy Hatchard as local lad Tom Jenkins is also particularly striking.
The show has been put together with a view to taking the spirit of future Christmases on the road (Harrison and Ian are no fools) – and Michael Taylor’s ingenious designs, brilliantly lit by Ben Cracknell, capture the gritty flamboyance of London’s Cheapside, the towering misery of Scrooge’s office and the impoverished warmth of the Cratchit household. No expense has been spared on the creative talent throughout the production – Sarah Travis has (as ever) done a wondrous job arranging Bricusse’s score, which on the evening is delivered by Neil MacDonald’s eight-piece band. Local legend Stephen Mear returns to his hometown to choreograph, bringing a magic to those numbers that allow a spectacle in movement – the Toy Ballet and The Milk of Human Kindness being two particularly ingenious routines (pantomime aficionados should look out for the two dames in the latter).
The musical makes no bones about the darkness of Dickens’ tale and Scrooge’s journey of redemption. The ghosts are scary (Karen Mann’s Marley is particularly ghoulish), with Britton fleshing out Scrooge’s journey of redemption in a way that highlights the character’s own childhood of emotional abuse and neglect.
There is perceptive stuff here, from both the leading man and Nikolai Foster, and by rights the show should be garnering 5 stars. But it is Britton’s singing that is perhaps the show’s only flaw. The actor’s eminent background has been hard won on stage and deservedly so, but his expertise stems primarily from the spoken word. While this Scrooge is undoubtedly believable, commanding our empathy, one cannot help but speculate how a different actor, who perhaps has a Valjean or the Phantom under his belt, might take Bricusse’s songs to their fullest potential. But… these are early days for the production and Foster is a shrewd director – it may well be that come mid-December Britton will inhabit the musical numbers with a more majestic vocal confidence and presence.
The story here is classic and heart-warming and it says much for the city of Leicester that a multi-racial cast, evidently drawn from a mix of ethnic backgrounds, can so lovingly tell a story that celebrates an English heritage. Scrooge The Musical is another Christmas cracker at the Curve.
Runs until 7th JanuaryPhoto credit: Pamela Raith