London Palladium, London W1
Opened 8 November, 2005

The Palladium seats nearly 2300 people. At Wednesdayís matinee, maybe a dozen of us were younger than 68-year-old Tommy Steele, whoís in the title role.  Yes, indeed: Tommy Steele as Scrooge. What next Ė Timmy Mallett as Dracula?  The power of Charles Dickensí story is that it shows the redemption of a truly unpleasant, even menacing man. Steeleís Scrooge is about as unlikeable as Bert the grouchy Muppet. Heís panto-wicked.

Ah, but this is hardly pure Dickens. Itís the musical version by Leslie Bricusse, first seen in a 1970 movie starring Albert Finney and trundling around since as a stage vehicle first for Anthony Newley and now Steele.  So thatís syrupified it to begin with.  The songs are the kind of Brit-musical stuff they used to sell almost by the yard. Only one number, ďThank You Very MuchĒ, even approaches memorableness.

The staging... well, you canít fault it. Paul Kieve is the West Endís most reliable designer of stage illusions, and he does the job efficiently here.  The Ghost of Christmas Present makes an adequate try at almost being John Rhys Davies, and the kidsí ensemble involves several members of the Langford family.  Victorian frocks and jollity abound, even when not strictly appropriate. Tiny Timís chirping is unintelligible.

But thereís only room for one name on the marquee. The next most recognisable actor is Barry Howard, dimly remembered as the ballroom dancer in Hi-De-Hi.  This is Tommy Steeleís show, and heís not going to let a little thing like playing a git stand in the way of his usual affable-Bermondsey-bloke shtick.  Every chance he gets, heís tipping us the wink that Scrooge isnít really bad and he isnít really Scrooge anyway.

Oh, but Steele hogs the spotlight. Literally. His follow-spot operator hardly gets a secondís rest in two and a half hours, poor soul. Even when all else is gloom, Tommy remains spotlit.  Thereís nothing really wrong with it as such, I suppose, but itís the kind of Christmas treat thatíll rot your teeth.  Look, I know itís obvious, but Iíll surely never get a better opportunity to say it, so here goes: Bah! Humbug!

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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