thu 18/07/2024

Elf, Dominion Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Elf, Dominion Theatre

Elf, Dominion Theatre

Syrupy and overpriced Christmas musical is instantly forgettable

Ho ho ho: Ben Forster's elf meets a pack of Santas (not the real one) Alastair Muir

This new family musical, based on the popular 2003 Will Ferrell film, has rightly been censured for its extortionate seating prices, hosting the West End’s most expensive top-end tickets at £267.50 a pop – and that’s without the drinks, ice cream and £10 souvenir programme. So, is it worth it?

In a word – no. This is a regifted hodgepodge, with Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s book brazenly name-checking its sources: Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, White Christmas. There’s the workaholic who neglects his family and rejects Christmas celebration (Scrooge meets Hook, Mary Poppins et al), and a stranded Santa whose sleigh is powered by our belief – Tinkerbell should sue. Meanwhile, Pollyanna-esque Buddy discovers he’s not an elf, but Santa’s accidental adoptee, so he journeys from the North Pole to New York to find his real dad. Let the fish out of water hijinks ensue.

Elf, Dominion TheatreIt’s calculatedly middle-of-the-road, a trait exacerbated by this uninspired British production, lacking the power and pizzazz that apparently made the Broadway version palatable. Director/choreographer Morgan Young supplies disappointingly workmanlike jazz hands and high kicks, and Tim Goodchild’s underwhelming set relies too heavily on flat animation. Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin provide a polished but instantly forgettable score; Debenhams would doubtless consider their bland swing pastiche a safely inoffensive backdrop to seasonal shopping.

The ensemble struggles to fill the vast Dominion stage, and there are enunciation issues – although when the lyrics include such pearls as “Sparkle jolly twinkle jingly”, that might be a blessing. A duff cold open sees Santa chuck in some British references, at odds with numerous New York in-jokes and tourist board ad, and there’s a similar drift between time periods: it’s retro in styling and sensibility, yet Santa sports an iPad. But Dad’s publishing company isn’t concerned about the digital revolution, only in brainstorming the next childrens print bestseller  shades of this weekApprentice. Lucky his long-lost son’s story is ripe for monetisation.

The toughest needle to thread is Buddy, a naïve manchild who, despite an apparent mental age of 10, cheerfully embarks upon a sexual relationship with Kimberley Walsh’s utterly beige shopgirl (pictured above right). Lacking Ferrell’s masterful blend of sincerity and irony, Ben Forster veers between giddy toddler and panto camp, hugely likeable but undercutting the darker material. Still, he’s in fine voice, as is Jessica Martins mum, while Joe McGann’s dad is suitably world-weary if vocally underpowered. But the standout turns come further down the billing: Graham Lappin and powerhouse Jennie Dale as a harassed middle manager and assistant respectively, and the enjoyable supporting elves (dancers on their knees), relishing a ludicrous waddling walk.

Its both too simplistic and too long (a stodgy two and a half hours) to demand the attention of younger viewers, and, aside from a bluesy number featuring disillusioned store Santas and an animal rights gag, there’s precious little for parents. Worse, this nakedly commercial enterprise vaguely preaches that Christmas isn’t about material goods but, you know, finding yourself and family and stuff. Just dont forget to pick up your true Yuletide spirit at the merchandise stall. The moral of the story, kids: there’s far superior – and more reasonably priced – festive fare elsewhere. 


Debenhams would doubtless consider their bland swing pastiche a safely inoffensive backdrop to seasonal shopping


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Maybe I watched a different show, I thought it was a delightful family event, cheesy yes, but the production was fantastic

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