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Striking it lucky

Ben Patey takes his bag of humbugs and casts his critic's eye over Michael Barrymore as Scrooge

Published on January 25th 2007.

Striking it lucky

"Do you fancy watching a play tonight?"

"Yeah deffo, what are we seeing?"

"Err an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. It's got Michael Barrymore in it".

"Nah. I'll give it a miss, cheers."

I couldn't give away a free ticket for Scrooge! The Musical to my friends, even though the show at the Liverpool Empire was actually packed out.

It probably didn't help that it was no longer Christmas, and the lead role was being played by a bloke who used to a pretty big name on the telly but then faded in pretty spectacular fashion. Michael Barrymore was the king of primetime TV. He was at the top of the Strike it Lucky grid and much has been written about him, usually preceded with the words "troubled TV star". Perhaps Barrymore's comeback is being observed by people as an opportunity to see if he still "has it", and, if he does, do the audiences still want it.

Perhaps I can skim the actual Christmas Carol story. Only mere mortals would not know of the second most famous tale ever told. (Dickens was good but he could have never have written Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).

An old miserly rich man (Scrooge) is visited by three ghosts (Past, Present and Future) and is subsequently spooked into becoming good... and generous... and loving, and a great role model to a little crippled boy named Tiny Tim. Yes…A Christmas Carol - the ultimate tale of one man's near fatal fall and subsequent resurrection/reinvention.

The doors flew open and a rather less mean looking Scrooge than I remember entered the crowded Empire. Barrymore was back, but this time around there were none of the customary catchphrases. His singing wasn't amazing (it never was) but his prancing around the stage was as good as ever and the audience were instantly time warped back to Barrymore in his Saturday night heyday.

Although the manoeuvres were funny and made the children laugh, I personally think he played it a little too safe. I wanted either a truly despicable Scrooge or a softer Scrooge who made me chuckle a bit more.

However, there was much to admire about Bill Kenwright’s production. The set was amazingly realistic and the fluency in which new scenes were created was outstanding. The other singers and actors were also exemplary. Their vocal skills were abundantly clear, at times putting Barrymore in the shade.

Barrymore’s camp moments as Scrooge were brilliantly entertaining, but his more sensitive scenes were a little cringe worthy. Humbug!

As a charismatic entertainer, Michael Barrymore certainly still “has it” but, as far as being a lead in musicals go, he's just awight.

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