“Noel, Noel, Noel sing we loud/God today hath poor folk raised and cast a-down the proud.” It’s an aspect of Christmas that’s often ignored, nowadays; but once upon a time, the midwinter feast was famously the moment when an unequal world was turned upside down, at least for a day.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre
The Princess and the Pie ****
Oran Mor, Glasgow
And in that sense, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is arguably the greatest of all Christmas stories, the tale of a wealthy old miser who lives a joyless, money-grubbing life, until the Christmas Eve when he receives a redeeming visit from the ghost of his late business partner Marley, and from three spirits who show him the error of his ways.
Indeed, if you want a wise critique of the kind of rampant, wealth-hoarding capitalism of which we have lately seen far too much, then Dickens is your man, even 170 years on.
Leslie Bricusse’s 1970 musical version of the story –immortalised in the great film starring Albert Finney – is a genial show; but it nonetheless pulls no punches, either in satirising Scrooge and his greed, or emphasising the passionate human emotion behind Dickens’s writing, in lovely songs both joyful and poignant. And now, Scrooge receives a gorgeous, lavish, traditional Christmas production from Richard Baron at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, perhaps the only theatre in Scotland with the resources to create and costume a completely original Christmas show on this scale, with a cast of 16, and fine Christmas-card designs by Adrian Rees.
There’s an impressive, heartfelt central performance from Philip Rham as Scrooge, and an excellent ten-piece band perched among the chimney pots above the stage. And in a season when none of us can avoid the images of little children dying of hunger and cold in besieged Aleppo and elsewhere, we cannot pretend that the need for compassion evoked here by Dickens is a thing of the past. “Business? Business? Mankind was our business…” roars Marley’s ghost; he was right in 1843, and is still right today.
In Glasgow, meanwhile, the Play, Pie And Pint team demonstrate their perfect grasp of the radical Christmas tradition with their latest satirical panto The Princess And The Pie, wherein a penniless Highland queen and her swashbuckling son arrive in Glasgow in search of rich men and heiresses who might redeem their fortunes, and find their plans going agley when they encounter gorgeous Partick Polish girl Betty – who captures the prince’s heart despite being a pauper herself – and a sleazy man of business who portrays himself as a European aristocrat, but is in fact as boracic lint (skint) as all the rest of them.
With a puppet Boris Johnson in the stocks on Partick village green – so that everyone can give him a lively kick whenever the lovely Betty’s problematic status as a UK resident is mentioned – this year’s Oran Mor panto goes with a memorable swing. But then it is written by the great and witty Morag Fullarton, directed by comedy genius Tony Cownie and performed by the superb team of George Drennan, Clare Waugh, Francis Thorburn and Steven McNicoll; with the recorded voice of Robbie Coltrane delivering the narration in classic Hagrid style, witty, laconic, and as rich as a steaming bowl of porridge, with added honey.
Scrooge at Pitlochry Festival Theatre and The Princess And The Pie at Oran Mor, Glasgow, both until 23 December.