At Charles Dickens’s funeral at Westminster Abbey in 1888, the Very Reverend Dean Stanley preached that Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol was the finest Christmas sermon in the English language. Matthew Warchus’s in-the-round production at The Young Vic, with Rhys Ifans as Scrooge, is a fresh and constant delight, thanks mainly to the carol and hymn singing, the ringing of handbells and the music of Christopher Nightingale. There is a magical moment when snowflakes fall from the ceiling onto the audience and, amazingly, leave not a trace behind.
Finborough Theatre, in west London, revives two plays that have not been seen in years, an invaluable service to all those interested in theatre history. Jerome K Jerome is known today only as the author of that comic classic Three Men in a Boat, but in 1908 he had a huge box-office success with his modern morality play The Passing of the Third Floor Back, which is set in a third-rate boarding house in Bloomsbury.
A stranger, a Christ-like personage, arrives and converts the sinful lodgers by appealing to their better selves and praising them for the good qualities they did not know they had. Jonny Kelly directs a first-rate ensemble and Lizzie Faber’s gentle harp playing is very much part of the revival’s success.
Also set in 1908 is Israel Zangwill’s The Melting Pot, which is about Russian immigrants in New York and is a paean to American brotherhood. A pious Jewish father is shocked that his son (Steffan Cennydd, excellent) should want to marry a gentile.
The fiancée’s father is horrified that his daughter (Whoopie van Raam) should want to marry a Jew. He sees Jews as vermin and wants to stamp them out. The casting of Peter Marinker as both fathers is a masterstroke.
Liwaa Yazji’s Goats at Royal Court Theatre describes life in Syria under a dictatorship. Sixteen-year-olds, forced to enlist, are being slaughtered in the civil war. The government offers a mountain goat for the family of each martyr. The satire is at its best when the TV presenter is on stage. “What a heart-warming sight to see the village full of goats,” she gushes. But there are 17 scenes, far too many and mostly poorly acted. What Yazji has to say would be far better said in a documentary.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the feelgood musical by Dan Gillespie Sells, Tom MacRae and Jonathan Butterwell at Apollo Theatre, is about a 16-year-old boy whose ambition is to be a drag queen. John McCrea, massively confident, acts, sings and camps it up as the exuberant and vulnerable Jamie.
The Menier Chocolate Factory theatre has been transformed into a circus ring for Cy Coleman’s musical Barnum. Acrobats, fire-eaters and magicians have been engaged to strut their stuff. The dance numbers, choreographed by Rebecca Howell, are the high spots in Gordon Greenberg’s lively and colourful production.
At Charing Cross Theatre, Wilkie Collins’s novel The Woman in White is perfect melodrama for Andrew Lloyd Webber, a composer who loves Victoriana. The score is lush romantic and the singing impressive. Greg Castiglioni as the villainous Count Fosco has a show-stopping, cod-Italian operatic number, You Can Get Away With Anything. Thom Sutherland’s fast-moving production, excellently designed by Morgan Large, is extremely efficient.
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