Back in 1992, in Manchester, we saw the Leslie Bricusse musical ‘Scrooge’ in its first transfer to the stage, adapted from the Albert Finney film. It starred the late Anthony Newley, a big personality with a big voice, who was endearingly grumpy in his nightgown and cap on his way to redemption.
Fast forward twenty years and it is time to make my acquaintance with this show again, this time starring that performer of perennial cheerfulness, Tommy Steele. No-one has made more appearances at the London Palladium than this chirpy chap, and of those appearances, one previous triumph was that of Ebenezer Scrooge himself. And now he’s back …
Early November may not be the perfect time for such a seasonal show to make its return to the London stage, but in its joie de vivre and Christmas spirit, ‘Scrooge’ achieves the impossible – to give the audience a light heart and a smile with which to go back out into the world. To critique Steele’s performance would be pointless, as he has been playing much the same part for years; even when he’s grumpy before the ghosts of Marley and others arrive there is a twinkle in his eye.
Interestingly, Marley was played by Barry Howard back in 1992 and again now. He has a different wig, and shows more of a stately age than two decades ago, but he’s still very good.
Basil Dearden’s 1947 film for Ealing Studios must have been quite inflammatory on its first release, being so soon after World War Two. The plot concerns the marriage of RAF pilot Bob Dawson (David Farrar) to German nurse Frieda (Swedish actress Mai Zetterling), and their return to his village home in England. Frieda saved his life, but she is still the enemy, and families within the village cannot forgive or forget the loss of their loved ones and the attempts to devastate their country.
Plot points including Bob’s brother being lost in the war, with the wife he left behind (Glynis Johns) holding a torch for the brother who lived, the sister (Flora Robson) who stands for Parliament on an anti-German ticket, and – improbably – the sudden appearance of Frieda’s Nazi brother (Albert Lieven), who at first appears friendly but shows his fanaticism, when he gives his sister a Swastika necklace, leaving her to despair …
One of the darker entries in the Ealing Studios canon, this film is little known and seen these days, perhaps because of his attitude towards the people who attempted to win a World War a second time. The Germans are demonised by the villagers but in the end, the moral of the tale is that each person cannot be held accountable for the actions of many, regardless of whether they knew of those actions or not. The standout performers in this are not the leads, but rather Johns and Robson, who provide their characters with enough subtlety to cut through the more ridiculous parts of the plot.
Michael Clark remains an associate artist at the Barbican Centre and as part of that association, has created a new double bill of work, entitled ‘New Work’, with music in the first half by Scritti Politti, and in the second by Pulp/Relaxed Muscle (who appeared live at the London dates).
Clark’s choreography has matured over the years from his initial shock tactics and freak performers (like Leigh Bowery) to fluid movements, emotionless trust between his performers (including Kate Coyne and Jonathan Olliver, formerly of the Northern Ballet Theatre), and a slightly naughty vibe, underpinned by his own bemusing cameos. I remember his leading roles and can see his influence directly in a couple of his younger male dancers – however, in this show there may be a little too much going on at times, notably a scrolling set of texts which eventually spell the sentence ‘I’m thinking of opening a zoo’, and the aforementioned live band performance which is rather intrusive when singer Jarvis Cocker blocks the audience view of the dancers.
Costumes have always played a big part in this group’s performances, often being a draw in their own right. Here the focus moves from men in short dresses through to two tone skin tight bodysuits. The opening of the show, too, is novel – a dancer slowly descends to the stage, suspended by a very flimsy looking wire.
‘New Work’ showcases mesmerising movement with pulsating music beats in the second half, and sweet mellow vibes in the first. This group does not disappoint, and long may Clark continue to make his brief showcase appearances alongside his talented performers.