Theatre Review: Eric’s Christmas Carol @ The New Vic

350

Everyone knows the plot of The Christmas Carol – the traditional tale that gives a real feel-good factor to the festive season.

With its story seeing the redemption of a miserly figure turned into a benefactor who changes the lives of the poor in his neighbourhood after a series of ghostly visitations, there is rarely a dry eye in the house when the various versions are trotted out every December.

So, when Charles Dickens decides to update the setting from Victorian London to the Stoke-on-Trent of 1967 – and with the great man himself overseeing the opening night – another session of sugar-coated benevolence is assured, isn’t it? Well maybe is the answer although there are certainly many tears of laughter by the finale.

The mistake the famed author made is to build his new production around Eric (David Graham) who, as Ericnezer, is the meanest music shop owner in the land and treats his employee Nobby Crotchet (Joe Sterling) very poorly and pays him even worse. So badly is Nobby paid that he finds it difficult to feed his family of ten and wonders how he can provide his brood with presents.

Ericnezer goes home and hopes that his housekeeper Mrs McSpredder (Laura Sheppard) will help him through the night but she is otherwise engaged by visits from elderly relatives who require her to go through her wardrobe of sexy outfits. So the music shop owner is forced to face his night of torment alone.

The plot nominally follows that of the original but the ghosts are very different from those in the usual productions – who would have thought the late partner was Bob Marley? – and the audience member is left to wonder about the final outcome. Will the hard-hearted Ericnezer be changed into a cheerful donor of goodwill? Will Tiny Tim live to enjoy a fulfilled life?

My lips are sealed but unfortunately even the great Charles Dickens got it wrong sometimes. What is guaranteed though is another fun night of Eric’s madness.

This is another night of rollicking one-liners with local references frequently thrown in. Tunstall takes a particular bashing as the place where the poor go but all is done in the best possible taste. The show doesn’t take itself seriously and there are numerous gags about the low numbers in the cast. This of course works well as it gives the opportunity for the cast members to display their versatility.

The players are also able to show their talents on the musical stage as every opportunity is taken to burst into song. Regular attenders – and there are many of them – look forward to hearing the superb renditions of the Sounds of the 60s and 70s and they were not to be disappointed by a playlist that included regular numbers interspersed with new additions. Alan Howell and Harvey James were once again on hand to provide their excellent versatility both instrumentally and vocally. This time they were joined by Carly Cook – what a cracking drummer! – , singer Gail James and vocalist/instrumentalist David Gosling who all enthusiastically added their expertise to the party.

The key to the success of the Eric franchise is that the team clearly has as much fun as the audience. Gail was occasionally spotted looking into the crowd with a mixed look of pleasure and awe on her face. She seemed to be wondering if Eric’s band could be so entertaining. The answer is a 100% yes!!

This is yet another audience-pleaser and after 2 hours 30 minutes of fabulous fun I can definitely say that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

The show continues until 11th December. Contact 01782 717962 or tickets@newvictheatre.org.uk for details