Saturday, December 3

A Christmas Carol – Gladstone Theatre

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without ‘A Christmas Carol’ whether you read it, rewatch an old film or better still see it live at a theatre! There are many versions, but West Kirby Musical Theatre Company is presenting one I haven’t seen before at The Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight until Saturday.

Book and lyrics by Chris Blackwood and music by Piers Charter-Robinson, who give us the same familiar Dickens’ story but with lots of new tunes and a few additional characters. In the main the songs are very good, reminiscent of Oliver! Scrooge! and others – some with lyrics so fast and furious it was like a Gilbert and Sullivan libretto and a challenge for any performer. Yet others were melodic and memorable. Perhaps, as the show lasted nearly three hours, there could have been a few less reprises but the audience was very appreciative and gave a well-deserved standing ovation.

WKMTC are blessed with many excellent singers and their chorus work has always been first-class. This show gave opportunities for many to have small cameos from every age group, showcasing those that might often be in the chorus. It was a good choice for the group and the whole cast (too many to mention everyone) put in a worthy performance.

We started with Charles Dickens (Michael Kennedy) as our narrator, who seamlessly slips into other characters integrating with the ensemble. Scrooge himself (Carl Howard) gave an energetic performance capturing his grumpiness and his comedy with some tender singing. His nephew Fred (Nick Hawkswell who also played young Scrooge) was natural, charming and believable with an angelic singing voice.  Jacob Marley (Gerry Johnston) was in fine-voice and gave a real character; the dance of the ghosts was very entertaining. The Ghost of Christmas Past as a sparkling fairy (Debbie Simnor) sang ‘Shine the Light ‘with beautiful sincerity.  John Phipps gave us a strong Ghost of Christmas Present (I wondered if they could have padded him out a bit?) The Fezziwigs had real character, well sung by Keith Phillips and Kathy Jordon, looking like they came straight out of a pantomime and Belle (Kelly Seville) renders a touching ‘Heart of Gold’.

But for me, the show was stolen by the delightful comic duo of Mrs Dilber (Tia Gill) and Mrs Filch (Wendy Newton) who gave a ‘Pantoesque’ style performance with facial expressions, good movement, comic timing and overstated costumes. I particularly like ‘Just Desserts,’ where they are joined by Old Joe (Keith Philips again) It was as good as any number in a professional show!

This style of delivery suited the piece, and I wondered if some of the ensemble, especially at Fizziwig’s ball, could have also been more exaggerated to really play on the comic visuals. In a more naturalistic production, we would have expected the poor to be ragged and dirty but here everyone was pristine in wonderful colours and textures the Dilber/Filch duo were like two fabulous dames; the wardrobe department had worked wonders.

Director, Mike Ellis, gave his crowd scenes lots of ‘stage-business’ – always hard with such a large company filling the space.  MD Robert Bowness led his marvellous orchestra with skill and experience and good sound and lighting enhanced the production.

Just one little glitch for me – scene changes – the big unfolding panto backdrops weren’t necessary; they took up time and were cumbersome. The opening backdrop served well enough, and the scenes could have been minimal with basic props and furniture.  If the changes must happen put music and action over them, so they are less intrusive but maybe by tomorrow it will be slicker.

But I hear you say, what about the Cratchit family? Ah yes, this charming family stole our hearts with rounded performances from ‘Mr. & Mrs.’ (Dave Don and Helen Roberts) who were warm, natural and with superb voices in ‘Do As the Cratchits do.’ The children – Martha (Gabriella Kirby) Belinda (played on this occasion by Sophie Jenkins) Peter (on this occasion by Jacob Reynolds) and of course, Tiny Tim (Daniel Ashton) who would melt anyone’s heart. This young man had confidence, talent and is surely ‘one to watch’ The song ‘God Bless’, when they were joined by the children of the company, left us all with a big ‘sigh’ and a tear in our eye.

And so, God Bless you all for a most entertaining and enjoyable show! Now it really feels like Christmas is on its way. 

Reviewer: Bev Clark

Reviewed: 10th November 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★