I’ll be honest; I wasn’t really feeling the Christmas love when I arrived at Theatre503 last night; even being handed a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie didn’t quite do the job. Lucky then that the Sleeping Trees were more than up to the challenge of unearthing my festive spirit.
In this year’s pantomime, Scrooge and the Seven Dwarves, the comedy trio made up of Joshua George Smith, John Woodburn and James Dunnell-Smith, are determined to make good on last year’s fiasco, when they forgot to book their 30-strong cast of actors. Surely something that disastrous couldn’t possibly happen again…?
You see where this is going.
Over the course of the next two hours, this hilarious tale brings to life a mash-up of Dickens and Disney, with Santa thrown in for good measure. Unlikely hero Ebenezer Scrooge is transported to Fairytale Land by Santa’s mother, charged with saving the day after the Wicked Witch steals all the Christmas spirit. I could tell you more – but I don’t want to ruin it, because it’s the twists and turns that make this story so fabulous; you literally never know (and it often feels entirely possible that the actors don’t either) what’s going to happen or who’s going to appear next.
I also fear I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the unique genius of Sleeping Trees’ creations, which include a depressed Mary Poppins, a gurning Wicked Witch and an overenthusiastic Broomstick, accompanied from a corner by composer and musician Ben Hales, who besides being a brilliant and versatile performer, also carries off a series of ridiculous hats (and an even more ridiculous Act 2 costume) with effortless style.
Scrooge is a family show, and although the audience last night was largely composed of grown-ups (in age, at least), I can imagine children adoring it – not least because they get to throw stuff, sing songs and join in with all the usual pantomime madness. In the intimate space at Theatre503, the banter flows easily and naturally between audience and actors, with the front row being particularly hot seats in that department…
Though the attention to detail and comic timing are second to none, like all the funniest comedy it’s not always clear what’s planned and what just sort of happens in the moment. The actors, who are clearly having a blast, seem frequently as amused as the audience, but also have the quick instincts of true comedians, enabling them to respond to whatever mayhem goes on (last night’s show, for instance, featured an incident which, if it was in fact unplanned, was the best example of falling with style I’ve ever seen).
This is my first pantomime of the season, and while the others may enjoy bigger budgets and household names, they already have a huge standard to live up to. Face-achingly funny, with an imaginative and endearing story and songs that are far too catchy (24 hours later, I’m still singing the closing number), this is an absolute must-see that I shall be recommending repeatedly to anyone who’ll listen for the rest of the holiday season. Merry Christmas…
Scrooge and the Seven Dwarves is at Theatre503 until 7th January.