Avril Silk | Remote Goat Review.
As I left the Brewhouse after enjoying their second in-house Christmas production, I overheard a small boy say, impressed and excited, ‘It was one big song!’ I would change ‘big’ to ‘big-hearted’. ‘A Christmas Carol – The Musical’, produced by the Brewhouse’s Chief Executive, Vanessa Lefrançois and directed by Greg Banks, is everything you could ask for in a Christmas show. The show looks and sounds terrific. The talented onstage musicians, led by Musical Director Lisa Tustian, performed beautifully. I absolutely loved Designer Cleo Pettit’s set – a Dickensian street scene with well-differentiated, ingenious interiors wheeled on and a very atmospheric graveyard. Helen Coyston’s costumes had a subtlety of palette that I appreciated. The audibility problems that sometimes affected last year’s otherwise delightful ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ were banished and all credit to the cast – principals and the Community Ensemble – for their clarity and abundant energy. The pace never flagged.
Having studied and seen the play umpteen times, (as well as appearing in it fifty odd years ago as Scrooge’s girlfriend, with the Bristol and Clifton Dickens Society) I found myself wondering how Charles Dickens’ timeless message would be received by young people new to the story. Very well, is my observation. Ben Ashton’s miserly old skinflint was joyously rehabilitated, thanks to the very effective spectres who show him what was, is, and could be. Phil Sealey, Jeremy Randall and Geri Allen (who all multi-role impressively) show Scrooge the error of his ways, whilst helping him realise it is not too late for transformation – (although it was too late for him and his fiancée, expressively played by Megan Leigh Mason.)
Scrooge is forced to confront the reality of life for the impoverished Cratchitts and their loving family. Kind-hearted Bob (Dominic Brewer) and Megan Leigh Mason as the practical Mrs Cratchitt plus their children, show there are worse things than poverty. The difficult part of Tiny Tim, gentle and brave, is touchingly performed. (Two performers play Tim – JJ Dayus-Jones and Nicholas Hopes). The dangers of excessive sentimentality are avoided by the performers, much assisted by the fast pace and the impressive musical score, the work of composer Alan Menken and librettist Lynn Ahrens.
In another part of Dickensian London, Scrooge’s nephew, winningly played by Tom Allenby (who also played the young Scrooge) keeps hoping that his uncle will one day enjoy a family Christmas with him. Fred, with his family and friends. as well as the fun-loving Fezziwigs (Phil Sealey and Geri Allen) all make it abundantly clear that Scrooge and Marley (Dominic Brewer and Phil Sealey) miss out on all that is good and worthwhile because they put love of money above their fellows.
The Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball was a real highlight for me, and the gaiety Young Scrooge enjoyed there made his later unkindness to his benefactors all the more vivid. I like the way the production balances darkness and light; not ducking the former but emphasising the latter with good humour and warmth.
There’s a super programme and some attractive merchandise, and as ever, the Brewhouse’s friendly team make sure that visiting the theatre is a positive experience.
I hope this show will play to packed houses throughout the Christmas season. It deserves to.