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Review: The Christmas Grump at Northern Stage until January 3, 2015

Northern Stage's The Christmas Grump is an inventive take on a Charles Dickens classic for the very young

*****
TOPHER MCGRILLIS Alexandra Tahnee, Ruth Johnson, Alice Blundell and Michael Blair in The Christmas Grump
Alexandra Tahnee, Ruth Johnson, Alice Blundell and Michael Blair in The Christmas Grump

Mr Scratch is “so mean he would lick the sprinkles off your ice-cream”.

Expertly played by Michael Blair, this toymaker grinch for little ones is an Ebenezer Scrooge dressed as a rotund Tweedledum.

The Grump is “made of sad stuff”, only creating toys for rich grown-ups to look at rather than for children to play with.

But two dynamic Dickensian urchins called Raddy and Charlie (Alice Blundell and Ruth Johnson) are determined to teach Scratch a lesson and save Christmas by helping it “spill onto the street”.

With the help of Scratch’s daughter Katie (Alexandra Tahnee), these musical good-doers break into his Toy Emporium. And so begins Scratch’s journey from mean-spirited curmudgeon to cheery Christmas reveler.

TOPHER MCGRILLIS Michael Blair as Mr Scratch in The Christmas Grump
Michael Blair as Mr Scratch in The Christmas Grump
 

Just like Scrooge (but without the scary ghosts), Mr Scratch is given three chances for redemption in a series of scenes involving cowboys, pirates and elves.

Brilliantly written by Susan Mulholland (whose character cleverly references the ‘Old Scratch’ of A Christmas Carol), this show is skilfully directed by Mark Calvert.

The Christmas Grump allows scope for the Northern Stage team’s trademark lo-fi entertainment, such as puppets, shadow play and old-school playthings. Cans and strings are used as “communication devices”.

There is plenty of audience interaction, with the cast encouraging shouting, clapping and singing along to the catchy original soundtrack by singer-songwriter Katie Doherty.

TOPHER MCGRILLIS Michael Blair and Alexandra Tahnee in The Christmas Grump
Michael Blair and Alexandra Tahnee in The Christmas Grump
 

My kids, aged seven and five, were gripped throughout and even though the show is officially for the under sixes, it’s not in the least bit babyish.

Andrew Stephenson’s sophisticated set, all clockwork and cogs, is reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Inventive deployment of props includes Scratch’s bedcovers being used for a song where the heads of ‘Christmas cheer’ warn of his forthcoming three chances.

“Try a little bit of Christmas,” Mr Scratch is urged. We tried and were granted a lot of Christmas, thanks to some awesome creativity.

Tamzin Mackie

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