As good as gold ... and bet­ter

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Culture - By Mark Brown

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.

Pho­to­graph: Tim Morozzo

Benny Young, left is the per­fect Scot­tish Scrooge in A Christ­mas Carol

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