As good as gold ... and better
A Christmas Carol Tramway, Glasgow Five stars Until January 6
Re-gifting is, generally, something of a faux pas at Christmas time. However, in the case of this revival of Dominic Hill’s production of Charles Dickens’s seasonal favourite A Christmas Carol (which was first staged at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre in 2014), it is difficult to imagine a more wonderful present for Yuletide theatre audiences.
Hill has adapted his show masterfully to be played on a bespoke thrust stage in Tramway’s main performance space (the temporary abode of the Citizens company while its Gorbals home undergoes a transformative redevelopment). His tremendous cast, who welcome us to our seats warmly with a series of nicely sung carols, has also changed.
The passage of time and the exigencies of theatrical careers have necessitated some alterations to the acting personnel, most notably in the lead role itself. The superb Cliff Burnett (who was Hill’s Scrooge four years ago) has been replaced by the equally excellent Benny Young (who gave an unforgettable rendering of the skinflint in the National Theatre of Scotland’s Carol back in 2011).
Young is the perfect Scottish Scrooge; imagine an especially parsimonious, Calvinist Morningside bank manager circa 1843. If the actor gives the impression of a man whose soul has shrivelled to the size of a raisin, that is all the better for the delightful exuberance of his ultimate conversion to become London’s most enthusiastic philanthropist.
If the part of the penitent miser is played with great style and skill, every other aspect of the production follows suit. This is as true of Rachael Canning’s beautiful period costumes and fabulous puppets as it is of Nikola Kodjabashia’s, by turns, bleakly and joyously atmospheric music and sound. The crisp, poetic script, by outstanding dramatist Neil Bartlett, gets to the beautiful heart of Dickens’s evergreen tale. As in 2014, it is brought to the stage with immense panache and humanity by Hill and a first-class cast.
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen Four stars
Until January 6
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen is one of the powerhouses of the traditional Scottish pantomime. With its “star turn off the telly” (Lee Mead, who won the BBC’s musical theatre contest Any Dream Will Do back in 2007, as Prince Harry), and its outrageously lurid costumes, it might seem interchangeable with any bigstage English panto.
In Scottish pantomime, there is a premium on good old-fashioned music hall comedy. More often than not, that starts with the crossdressed dame, and HMT has, for the last 15 Christmas seasons, boasted one of the best.
Alan McHugh, actor, musical theatre performer and writer extraordinaire, is both the author and the comic lead of Aberdeen’s panto. Performing the role of the decidedly less-than-feminine Nurse Nellie MacDuff, McHugh is the hilarious and indisputable star of the show.
Like a comic ringmaster, McHugh ad libs and interacts with the audience (not least in a surprisingly effective skit involving a video camera) with the confidence and deftness of such comic heroes as Chic Murray and Johnny Beattie. He has also fashioned a superb double act with Jordan Young, whose Muddles is a tremendous, highoctane pantomime dafty, and the perfect partner to McHugh’s inspired nonsense.
Jenna Innes (Snow White) and Mead are in fine voice, while Juliet Cadzow carries on the proud Scottish tradition of posh, English baddies as the witch Queen Lucretia.
All in all, another rumbustious pantomime success for HMT and its master of revels Dame Alan McHugh.
Benny Young, left is the perfect Scottish Scrooge in A Christmas Carol