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Claus The Musical at the Lowry – review

The new festive musical has its world premiere

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The company of Claus
© Pamela Raith

If you've ever read any of L Frank Baum's other novels set in Oz, then you might grasp why he's not the most frequently adapted writer. There were 14 of them, but he also wrote more than 40 other books, plus a slew of short stories, poems and scripts. Prolific, perhaps. Peerless? Not so much.

So his little-known, rarely-told origin story of Father Christmas himself – "how the boy became a man, how the man became a legend", as the publicity puts it – seems a slightly odd choice for producer Katy Lipson at Aria Entertainments to promote for this festive production in Salford's smaller space.

Let's be charitable (it is Christmas, after all) and say that it's probably mainly Baum's fault that the narrative feels flimsy and trite. Maybe Hollywood's parade of origin stories of most of the world's leading superheroes has left the genre looking a little tired and overworked. Whatever the root cause, Claus struggles to find a story engine that engages or illuminates, and it ends up feeling under-written and under-prepared – which is doubly strange for a show that has taken 12 years to reach this point.

And it's a shame, because there's plenty of production quality, musical warmth and performance talent on display among the 14-strong cast and six-piece band. Harry Winchester, for instance, imbues the title character with a nice blend of childlike innocence and moral rectitude, his powerful singing voice delivering Andy Collyer's straightforward songs with charm and appeal.

The company of Claus
© Pamela Raith

Georgie Buckland offers a fine turn as Necile, the immortal who adopts a human foundling abandoned in the supernatural realm and brings him up to love children and encourage them to be good (do you see where this is going?), while Jazz Evans steals the show as the villain of the piece, the evil sprite who attempts to undermine Claus's efforts to spread happiness wherever he goes.

Kate Golledge's direction sometimes sees the stage overcrowded with bodies and scenery, but designer Stewart J Charlesworth and lighting designer Aaron J Dootson create bundles of atmosphere and musical director Alex Beetschen leads the band with precision.

There's a lack of jeopardy in Simon Warne's script and too many of the resolutions are simplistic or just plain cheating – the solution to Claus's mortality is a particularly awkward offender in this regard – but it's all delivered with an innocence and avoidance of cynicism which is delightful to behold in these difficult times, and there's a real sense of wanting to convey some Christmas magic in the score and production.

It's hard to see Claus The Musical establishing itself as a staple of the season, as Elf or White Christmas have become, but as a gentle festive entertainment it has lots to recommend it. Leave your "Bah! Humbug"s at home and settle in for a harmless, heartwarming couple of hours.

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