Let me be succinct: Belfast’s Lyric Theatre’s traditional Yuletide offering is nothing short of terrific.
So, if you there’s one treat you should enjoy this holiday season, make sure it’s tickets to ‘Bah Humbug!’ now playing on the main stage until January 5. Even better, invite your extended family and friends.
I feel they’ll not be disappointed.
‘Bah Humbug!,’ a radical remake of Charles Dicken’s classic tale, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ is that rare combo – excellent script, wonderful acting and impressive choreography – that brings you to the edge of tears and the lip of laughter. Maybe even have you dancing in your seat. And certainly howling at the stage on-cue.
From the opening amusing song ‘Don’t They Know Christmas Time is a Con,’ adapted from the Band Aid hit, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas,’ from a quartet dressed loosely in assorted garments of ‘Whiskey, Foxtrot, Tango’ emblazoned T-shirt, red beret, sneakers and jeans, there’s little doubt this show will be memorably madcap.
And with colourful green, red and white decorations festooned around the stage, there’s no mistaking what time of year it is.
But that’s where predictability ends.
The rest is a big sack-full of surprises, not least being the impressively creative disguise of the three ghosts that visit the age-old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. Wonderful use of multi-media, including a SERI-like voice, provides the arrival of Jacob Marley’s ghost with added dramatic impact.
Writers/actors Conor Grimes and Alan McKee deserve strong kudos. They take Dicken’s classic tale, give it a good shaking to rid it of lacklustre dust and sweep it upwards with a scintillating contemporary innovative storyline that slides along like a sleigh through snow.
Aside from script prowess, like their fellow actors, Roisin Gallagher and Sophie Harkness, the duo also play multiple roles with panache and passion. Harkness, for example, Scrooge’s niece, appears first as a New Age, vegan hipster with rolled-up yoga mat on her back. Before show’s end, she’s adopted different characters several times, including that of a mean, no-nonsense Ghost of Christmas Past. Gallagher not only sings, and sings well ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ but also displays a faultless Cockney accent, a comedic Mrs. Cratchit, mother to Tiny Tim.
Never before has this ghostly tale been compared to an Irish housing boom yet welcome to Scrooge & Marley Property Company. Instead of being a penny-pinching book-keeper in 19thth century London, Ebenezer is one of the richest developers in Belfast, a conniving man who is more than delighted to see people shiver overnight waiting in line to buy a home at top prices in his brand-new estate, ‘Ebenezer Plaza.’
Laughs are plentiful throughout this two-act, almost two-hour show including a series of delightful give and takes on the simple term ‘greatcoat,’ as well as keen insights into local societal nuances. These include the off-hand quip: “Are you not cold?” and the corresponding answer, “No, I’m from Tyrone;” the presence of a minor character who was in reality a prominent feature of Belfast life – a minister dressed in black who collected money for the poor outside the city’s cathedral every year; and a passing reference to the arch symbol of bribery in the Irish property market, the infamous ‘brown envelope,’ given to the ‘planning officer in the sky.’ Even Sinn Fein political party leader, Gerry Adams, gets a mention, and in a favourable light too.
If my Romanian wife’s reaction was anything to go by, such specific local references, however, do not in any way interfere with international guests’ overall enjoyment of the play.
Aside from unexpected ghostly surprises, there’s also the appearance of key characters such as the crippled Tiny Tim. His arrival is nothing less than – unique, in all manner of ways you could never imagine.
Praise also goes to Michael Condron in the lead role. He carries the show throughout, with little time off-stage, and portrays the grim, down-in-the-mouth Scrooge to a tee. His transformation of the bitter, tight-fisted man into generous patron is quite believable. Under the precise direction of Frankie McCafferty, a lover of fast-paced comedy, and choreographer, Deborah Maguire, songs and dance-steps, including a hilarious routine to the tune of The Scaffolds song, ‘Lily the Pink’ and ‘dodging bullets’ lyrics to the tune of ‘Winter Wonderland,’ as well as rapid-fire dialogue, are as smooth as silk. In fact, I could swear the actors had mastered their many roles so well, they added jokes for added pleasure whenever the occasion arose. Speaking of surprises, watch out for a short, sudden monologue on the arts as integral element of society by a hard-hat-wearing construction foreman.
As for the music, Rod McVey, is perfectly positioned – with a Dickensian seasonal touch, like an elf – to one side of the stage providing live keyboards and effects.
Who knows, after seeing ‘Bah Humbug,’ you might even end up wearing shades of pastel.