CURLY HAT AND STRIPY STOCKINGS TIME
Play critic-cliché bingo once they’re out! One point each for “Elf ’n Safety”, “National Elf” , kids with phones outside taking Elfies , pixie-lated publicity, gnome runs, and anyone saying “this’ll sleigh them”. The one about feeling good “from head to mistle-toe” is actually in the lyrics, so that doesn’t count.
But who am I to, er, rain-deer on its parade? The story is from the much-loved film with Will Ferrell, about an infant who stowed away in Santa’s sleigh as an orphan and is raised by elves before setting out to find his neglectful human father. It is determinedly good-hearted. The press night was an Alzheimer’s Society gala, the producers donating all the free press ticket prices to the charity. Ben Forster bounces enthusiastically around in an embarrassing green elf-suit with no sign of discomfort, and Kimberley Walsh of Girls Aloud deploys – in the one decent solo she is allowed – a dry wit and really beautiful, strong musical-theatre voice . For the benefit of Dads, she is first spotted in an elfin skating-skirt high up a stepladder in Macy’s (New York has long since stolen Christmas from old Chas Dickens’ London). And she accepts without snarling the possibly suggestive line from Buddy the Elf “I’d like to stick you on the top of my tree”. Hmmm.
If I was a starry-eyed seven-year-old, or if its ferocious Christmassiness wasn’t launched on Bonfire night to an almost totally adult audience, I might record more pleasure. The score and songs by Matthew Skier and Chad Beguelin are OK – Ms Walsh’s “Never fall in love with an Elf” being the best, and the reiterated “Christmas Song” the catchiest . The ensemble tap-breaks are professional, and there are two or three genuinely witty moments. The best involves the panic to pitch a children’s book and save the Dad’s publishing job; by happy serendipity the show opened the day after the cringiest Apprentice show yet when the teams had to devise a toddlers’ book in four hours and sell the ghastly result. Even they didn’t suggest “a family of asparagus children”.
But over and over again the word in my mind was “workmanlike”. It isn’t special, spectacular or magical enough to justify the record seat prices (from the high fifties (bargains 48.50 on one site) to £ 160-plus, with no halves) . This production, by Bord Gais Dublin and the Theatre Royal Plymouth, is not a slick Broadway stunner. The story, with its moral of goodwill, family, and a Scroogeian grump learning “It’s never too late to grow” is simple even by child standards: children’s theatre these days is nuanced, strong-flavoured, thrillingly demanding. Yet it isn’t full-on panto either.
And to be honest, for most of its length – when Buddy the Elf is being no help in either Macy’s or his Dad’s office, playing with the shredder and throwing “snow” around like the intern from Hell – his “ lovable” naivete gives a worrying impression of bordering on serious mental retardation. He’s supposed to be thirty years old, and is expert with an iPad. Was there no wifi at the North Pole? One should not, perhaps, find oneself siding so exasperatedly with the nicely sour Joe McGann as the unwilling father…
rating Two. You can add a third if you’re under ten and get a bargain ticket.