Tag Archives: Neil McDermott

THE ELF WHO WAS SCARED OF CHRISTMAS

The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas

★★★★

Charing Cross Theatre

THE ELF WHO WAS SCARED OF CHRISTMAS

The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas

Charing Cross Theatre

Reviewed – 11th December 2020

★★★★

 

“This production is a heartfelt clawing back of the innocence that lies in the eyes of children”

 

Let’s face it, after the year we’ve experienced, we can all be forgiven for being a little bit scared of Christmas this winter. In fact, it’s safe to say that fear has entered the national psyche all round. But fear no more; help is at hand under the arches on the Embankment. Behind the doors of the Charing Cross Theatre, Neil McDermott and Gina Beck are ready to smash all our misgivings away in an hour long burst of energy, song, dance, storytelling and magical mayhem.

McDermott is ‘Figgy’ and Beck is ‘Cupcake’; two elves preparing for the Christmas frenzy. All is well in their happy-go-lucky world; Cupcake cheerily bidding ‘Good Morning’ to every household object and utensil around her. Until she flips the calendar (after greeting it, of course) over to the first of December. She lets out a scream and dives under a blanket. The children shiver, Figgy quivers. And so the tale begins. Cupcake is scared of Christmas but Figgy cannot understand why at first. After all, you can be scared of many things; spiders and monsters, darkness and dentists; even sprouts. But Christmas? What’s there to be scared of? Christmas is special for… let’s ask the children, shall we?… gingerbread men, hot chocolate, mince pies, snow, snowmen and snowball fights, brandy butter, sugar candy, pigs in blankets and, of course, presents.

It is this final word that triggers Cupcake’s anxiety. So, thenceforth, presents are referred to as ‘thingamajigs’. Until this point, the show seems to have been gliding along on one level, but then the allegories come thick and fast. Cupcake is not so much afraid of the presents themselves, but of delivering them. We can all relate to the increasing expectations and pressures that accompany Christmas. For many it is the hardest time of the year. Cupcake included. Figgy has his own problems too. He believes he has lost his power of magic. Cue a rollercoaster ride of mutual support, with phrases lifted from a shelfful of self-help books. But McDermott and Beck, who also scripted the piece, mask the messages in an absolute joy of a performance. With a nod to the kids and a wink to the parents there’s something for everyone. Amid the slapstick there are tender moments too. And (although it is no surprise given the two actors backgrounds) they both possess spectacular singing voices.

It’s true, some of the platitudes might be lost on the younger members of the audience, but they are spellbound. It’s a delight watching them watching the show: they believe in the magic that McDermott and Beck have. What their characters have forgotten at the beginning of the show is the wonder and joy of Christmas. We need reminding of that. This production is a heartfelt clawing back of the innocence that lies in the eyes of children.

As with all Christmas shows there is a strong element of audience participation, which is in no short supply. But Figgy and Cupcake need all the help they can get. Cinnamon dust sprinkled over an elf, apparently, restores its magic powers. “The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas” restores our belief in the magic of the festive season. The kids don’t need telling – it’s the adults that do. Listen to them – and listen to that inner child; and, above all, just go and have a good time.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography courtesy Al Bourne Productions

 


The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas

Charing Cross Theatre until 23rd December

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Violet | ★★ | January 2019
Amour | ★★★★ | May 2019
Queen Of The Mist | ★★★★ | August 2019
Soho Cinders | ★★★★ | October 2019
GHBoy | ★★★ | December 2020

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Club Tropicana the Musical
★★

New Wimbledon Theatre & UK Tour

Club Tropicana the Musical

New Wimbledon Theatre & UK Tour

Reviewed – 23rd April 2019

★★

 

“Like the overblown cocktails that “Club Tropicana” serves up, it is all show and little substance”

 

As the opening bars of ABC’s ‘The Look of Love’ open the show, we get a taste of what it must have been like, back when the announcement to remind us to switch off our mobile phones was aimed at the lucky minority. “Club Tropicana”, a show that joins a growing brand of jukebox musicals that celebrate a particular phase of our cultural history, wastes no time in letting us know we are on a journey back to the eighties.

Despite being a time of massive change: the decade of Conservatism, Cold War and computers; Chernobyl and the Challenger disaster; the rise of AIDS and the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is often argued in retrospect that nothing really defines the 1980s. Similarly, despite a maelstrom of MTV hits shoehorned into it, it can be argued that there is little that defines this show. Both are sweeping criticisms, however, and consequently unfair. This musical is, in essence, simply a nod to the silliness of the decade and its aim is purely for the audience to have fun – and, indeed, make fun of the cheesiness of it all.

But even if you approach it with low expectations, Michael Gyngell’s book struggles to reach even those. The plot is as gossamer thin as the condom jokes and other outdated innuendos that desperately try to hold the threadbare dialogue together. I’m not sure it even tries to succeed in this, such is the laziness of the writing that obviously decides to rely purely on the iconic 80s soundtrack to hold the narrative together. Lorraine (Karina Hind) jilts Olly (Cellen Chugg Jones) on their wedding day. Not wanting to waste a honeynoom, she heads off to Sunny Spain with her two best buddies instead. Meanwhile Olly drowns his sorrows by jetting off with his two best men. To the same hotel as Lorraine, of course.

The experience is like turning up at a half-built resort, where the shell of a swimming pool is as shallow as the characters that swan around it searching for a personality. But the staff are doing their best. And it has to be said that, while there is little investment in story or characterisation, the cast, without exception, give it everything they have. The ensemble is a show unto themselves as they faultlessly execute Nick Winston’s top-notch choreography.

There are some fine voices on show particularly Amelle Berrabah and Neil McDermott as the hotel receptionists, blind to their mutual yearning but not to the onstage chemistry these two actors have. But the stand out is actor, singer, impressionist Kate Robbins as Consuela the cleaner. A dynamic presence, Robbins peppers the scenes with her expert comedic timing and mimicry. A surreal moment when she sings “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” in Spanish, dressed as Adam Ant is almost worth the ticket price alone!

Without a doubt, this show is a crowd pleaser. But it is far too aware of that fact and therefore, unforgivably, it takes for granted its appeal. Like the overblown cocktails that “Club Tropicana” serves up, it is all show and little substance.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

 

Club Tropicana

Club Tropicana the Musical

New Wimbledon Theatre until 27th April then UK Tour continues

 

Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
Rip It Up – The 60s | ★★★ | Garrick Theatre | February 2019
The Grand Expedition | ★★★★★ | Secret Location | February 2019
Carl’s Story | ★★★★ | Tabard Theatre | March 2019
Fiddler on the Roof | ★★★★★ | Playhouse Theatre | March 2019
Maggie May     | ★★★★ | Finborough Theatre | March 2019
Pain(t) | ★★★★ | Time and Leisure Studio | March 2019
The Life I Lead | ★★★ | Park Theatre | March 2019
The Project | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | March 2019
The Rubenstein Kiss | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | March 2019
The Talented Mr Ripley | ★★★★ | The Vaults | March 2019

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