What: A Christmas Carol
Where: Royal Festival Hall
When: 21st December 2000
In rep until 6 January 2001
Box office: 020 7960 4242
A Christmas Carol is a show with ballet/dance, stilt walkers, acrobats and an Eric Sykes narration. At this the hearts of some dance purists will sink. So let them, sod the high art... just grab the kids and /or parents and have fun.
The Royal Festival Hall always presents a family ballet at Christmas and this years is brand new. Two things to note especially - as for AMP productions, this is most definitely a show rather than a pure dance piece (so tuck your pretensions away or go see Paris) and the choreography is by Christopher Hampson, a diarist of ours, and if you have been following his choreographic progress you will know this is more than timely and very well deserved.
The Dickens plot is told over 16 scenes in 2 acts. I haven't read the story in years and there are one or two paras on each scene which makes for an interesting read but perhaps more after than before the performance. As a character we all know Scrooge - we use the name in everyday language and think of the man himself and his conversion to an all round 'good bloke' by dint of 3 ghosts showing him the horror of his money-obsessed ways. Dickens knew a thing or two about how to tell a yarn and in a way its surprising that such strong stories aren't used more for dance.
Sets and Costumes
The set (Mup Comer/Naomi Purkiss) is one of those that moves and/or revolves around to reveal new rooms and scenes. I like all the movement especially when Scrooge goes through a door from the outside street, everything revolves and suddenly you are in his house. This is all a bigger achievement than it perhaps appears because the Festival Hall is not actually a theatre of course - no fly tower or much other convenience.
The costumes (Bruce French) look nicely period (or ghostly!) and are all well made. No cheap tat here. Only Scrooges wig worries - it makes me think of Rasputin more than anything. The lighting was atmospheric and clever at times though there is a wrinkle or two to iron out.
The major interest for me was seeing what Christopher Hampson would make of his full-length dramatic ballet. His work has always been intelligent, musical (especially) and, rarity of rarities, accessible. Hampson knows how to please an audience, without being condescending, which is of course exactly why he was here. What we got was some solid group choreography (in a dance musical way), a particularly lovely pas de deux (for Emma Greenhalgh as Belle - young Scrooge's fiancee - and Simon Williams) and some good dramatic action. Act 2 and the finale are particularly strong, especially the latter where the music builds and builds and brings fourth a variety of potential teasing endings - great fun. But this is a production in which dance plays its part along with the acrobats, flying tricks etc. It all works together but of course I'd like to have seen a bit more dance - especially at the very start which is perhaps a bit slow.
Kevin Richmond does a grand job of bringing Scrooge to life be he miserable old git or cheerful member of the human race. Nice to see Richmond treading the boards again having retired from ENB a couple of years back. Oxana Panchenko was the Ghost of Christmas Past... a lovely dancer with marvellous technique though I'm not entirely sure if I'm ready for such a lovely ghost - perhaps more a ghostly angel. Tamarin Stott, who I've never noticed before (oh dear!) proved a lovely dance-actress and I will look for her again: but all the dancers were dramatically aware.
Does it work?
I like dance at Christmas: I like the way it draws people in who don't normally come and pleases them in new ways. I like the gurgles of kids, inappropriate clapping, the rustle of chocs as people enjoy themselves. I'm a sucker for having my heart-strings tugged and I love dramatic ballet and dancers pleasing us as entertainers. It was all there and we all enjoyed it in a thoroughly unpretentious way. Of course Hampson is already talking of modifying bits of it - but personally I think he should relax some and get in the next round! It's another useful step along his way - and a good one.