Review – Phil Willmott’s musical “A Christmas Carol” – King’s Head Theatre

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PLEASED TO SAY THIS REVIEW IS GENERATING PERSONAL ATTACKS ON ME! And thanks for visiting the review of last year’s production of A Christmas Carol. Here’s what I had to say in 2008:

Friday night I went to the official opening of the musical “Christmas Carol” that’s taking place through January 4th at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. A friend was involved in it and thus I had a bit more awareness than usual about this show – I’d had a peek at the script a few weeks earlier and was almost talked out of going by the use of “In The Hall of the Mountain King” as a sung bit. Still, I had a friend visiting me that night, and she was up for seeing the show with me (and supporting said mutual friend), so off we went.

I’d never seen a show in a pub before, even though I know it’s a fairly common thing in London. The theater, all the way behind the bar (on the main floor), was really small (eighty or so seats) with rather low ceilings. It was also completely jammed with performers – at least twenty were on the stage, in the aisles, or standing off to the sides, chatting and playing musical instruments. It was amazing how full of humanity the little theater was. Still, sightlines in the middle section were good, and I figured with my glass of mulled wine I was sure to be good through an hour and a half no matter what they threw at me.

The trope for this show is that Charles Dickens is trying to sell his publisher on this new book idea of his that he thinks will be incredibly popular (and make money), and he starts telling him the story that is “A Christmas Carol” in a pub in Victorian England, with the idea that if he can capture this audience, his story will surely sell well. This is all good and fine, except … well, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Charles Dickens as a person. Furthermore, I’d just been to the Dickens museum, and the false historical references (his previous novels being a failure and him being any way in financial straights when he wrote “A Christmas Carol”) really irritated me. Please! He was an established, well-to-do writer when he cranked out “Christmas Carol!” My friend was also going nuts because the costumes were a complete hodge-podge of pseudo-Victoriana (and she used to be a costume designer – how was I to know?). The bigger problem for me was that this story doesn’t NEED a framing device – it’s fine all on its own – and the time spent with Dickens took away from the story itself. (Note: Charlie Anson was totally hot, but that’s not the point. If I wanted to ogle him, I’d see him in … hmm … Equus … well, okay, a different show. What plays feature male actors taking it all off besides Equus? I must not be getting out enough to not be able to answer that question quickly. Anyway …)

Historical accuracy having been set aside, would the story at least be followed somewhat faithfully? Well … in my mind, no. I’ve seen a version of “A Christmas Carol” pretty much annually since I saw the Annex Theater version in Seattle some years ago (the one with the positively evil Tiny Tim), and the story isn’t as flexible as this production imagined it might be. To start, Scrooge (a delightfully curmudgeonly Mark Starr) gives no speech about the poor needing to make more of an effort to die, thus “decreasing the surplus population” – a sentiment which I’ve heard expressed nearly verbatim by a friend of mine this very year and one which I think bears regular repeating and thinking about. (It’s ludicrous to say that poor people simply shouldn’t exist and thus aren’t our concern.) Yet despite this, Cratchit (a good looking James Hayward) was out of the house and off for Christmas eve, leaving Scrooge to his lonely apartment, in about five minutes flat.

This gave us plenty of time to have fun with the haunting of Scrooge, but I found the spooky masked singing spooks just … a little too heavy handed, to be honest. This is actually a spooky and fun scene in the book, but I found its subtlety, and Marley’s message, got lost along the way.

And then the ghost of Christmas Past came along … and she was a girl, in a white dress, basically looking to me like a tarted up Miss Havisham. Where were my candles? When in the world did it get decided that she was “Cinderella, that you left behind when you left behind your books” (not a quote)? What a bunch of claptrap! Christmas Past as Cinderella! Yeah, sure, it was cool when they were “flown” over London (really awesome special effect involving not too much effort), but … CINDERELLA. You might as well have made … Tiny Tim the Ghost of Christmas Future. Oh wait, they DID! Forget the traditional image, this show came up with something so entirely ludicrous I found myself sighing and wishing for the finer points of the Stone Soup Theater’s Black Light Christmas Carol of some years past.

Good points: the singing of the cast was really enjoyable, Scrooge’s old girlfriend Belle (Poppy Roe) was really excellent in her scene (actually I enjoyed the whole Fezziwig scene rather a lot, though I thought the “On the First Day of Christmas” at the end was clunky), the tech crew/director did a great job handling some really challenging stuff in a tiny space (I liked the puppetry, and the lighthouse in the “Christmas by the Sea” scene was a treat), and the acting was far better than I would have expected from a space like this.

Overall this wasn’t a horrible show, but … I just think this script isn’t worthy of being produced. It’s not a bad Christmas Carol, and the price is low, so if you’re less particular about things like historical accuracy and fidelity to the text, you may enjoy it. Me, well, I can’t help but think fondly of the amazing South African “Christmas Carol” I saw last year, that captured all of the message of the story and fully bent and played with the structure while still feeling one hundred percent right. Oh well.

(This review is for a performance on Friday, December 12, 2008.)

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6 Responses to “Review – Phil Willmott’s musical “A Christmas Carol” – King’s Head Theatre”

  1. webcowgirl Says:

    Author : james (IP: 87.112.35.28 , 87.112.35.28.plusnet.ptn-ag1.dyn.plus.net)
    E-mail : garypage1@yahoo.com
    URL :
    Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=87.112.35.28
    Comment:
    you are an unkind bitch i personally would find it difficult to walk through life being unkind

  2. Review – Sweet Charity – Menier Chocolate Factory « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] quite made it into the upper echelons of Bloggerdom yet. (I can thoroughly piss off people that produce fringe shows and the occasional rabid Jesse Buckley fan, but mostly I’m a big nobody with time on her […]

  3. Harry Granger Says:

    THE TIMES – SAM MARLOWE
    Revoltingly sentimental

  4. Pete Roberts Says:

    Shouldn’t you admit that you were dating and have been dumped by a member of this company? Now your tragic web bile has to hang around us all like a bad smell. And yes. I would say this to you at a dinner party… so you’ll publish this?

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Hi, Pete, or is it Harry Granger, or shall I say Anon E Mouse? I am pleased to say that I haven’t been dumped by a member of your company. I am still happily married to the same person I was with last year. In fact, I’ll be seeing you at dinner tonight after the show at the party. Make sure to identify yourself to me as since the name you listed is neither in the cast nor in the crew list I’ll have a hard time finding you. Shame on you for hiding behind a pseudonym when making personal attacks. You know what’s sad is that my review is basically positive, I only complained about the costumes and the lack of historical accuracy. Is this perhaps the costume designer flipping out again? My advice to you is GENERATE BETTER REVIEWS and then you won’t have to worry about what I said. But thanks for generating all of the traffic to my website!

  5. james Says:

    you have no idea i can only wish you ill how terrible to not have a kind bone in your body

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