Press Report


Tiverton Gazette


December 13th 2011

Christmas Carol
was a wonder to behold

A Christmas Carol - The Musical
New Hall, Tiverton

"EVERY idiot that goes around with Christmas on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding," said a miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who soon learned the error of his ways in Tiverton last week.

Wicked witches, giants and fairy godmothers may be stalking stages across the land, but neither are likely to give you the willies like the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, which haunted Leon Searle who played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the New Hall last week.

The venue was transformed into the world of Old London Town from December 5-10 where the talents of Willow Tree Theatre Company, Tiverton, were obvious from the start.

The creativity and eye for detail of both company manager Steve Gage and Theresa Priscott made for a perfect set to stage both convivial and joyful music and song and the eerie, comic murkiness of the ghosts of Jacob Marley, past, present and future.

The talents of company members extended way beyond impressive vocals and artistry, as troupes also demonstrated their tap and ballet prowess, as well as what appears to be inspiration from Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Leon delivered his part flawlessly and his character soon changed his ways after Marley, played by Martin Chilcott, appeared in his living room in a plume of green fog and warned: "you shall be visited by three ghosts ... three ghosts which may well stop you ending up like me."

It took a matter of seconds to transform the stage from a London street-scene, complete with a traditional Victorian gas lamp, into Scrooge's living room.

A ghostly dance ensued in a puff of smoke and Marley's advice to "head off that way" was rather apt considering it was aimed at the decapitated one.

Vicki Roberts, who also played the lamplighter, was the next to visit Scrooge as the Ghost of Christmas Past appearing behind a mirror in a shimmering white and silver dress.

The powerful sound of the 14-strong orchestra, led by musical director John Fitton, was only matched by Vicki's voice when she belted out a number of songs with faultless clarity on the third night.

Nathan Banks, who also played young Ebenezer, and Abi Pring, who also played Mrs Cratchit, looked at home on stage as young lovers Fred Anderson and Emily.

Rick Barfoot appeared in his 12th Willow Tree show as both the sandwich board man and the Ghost of Christmas Present, and he sung while surrounded by young tap dancers dressed in a huge green gown with a holly wreath on his head.

Anya Felix, nine, who joined Willow Tree as a three-year-old, was among some of the youngest cast members who all delivered their roles with astounding confidence, under the expert eyes of founder Irene Holland, vocal coach Katy Baker and choreographer Debbie Shearman. She played Tiny Tim and wished everybody a Merry Christmas while sat on Malcolm Yeates' shoulder, who played his father Bob Cratchit.

Scrooge's transformation was met with laughter when he cheered 'Merry Christmas', only to drowned out by the screams of a lady who he smacked on the bum.

Threats to those who cannot pay that the "aw will find a way" were soon a thing of the past and I'm sure everybody looks forward to future Willow Tree performances.

Good afternoon!

David Goddard



Audience Reviews




December 2011


A Christmas Carol - The Musical
New Hall, Tiverton
Submitted by Amanda Knott

This was a very jolly night out!

The Willow Tree Theatre Company headed by Irene Holland once again hosted a sparkling evening of Christmas cheer.

The night I saw their production of A Christmas Carol, it was horribly dank and chilly outside, but no amount of external gloom could have overwhelmed the enthusiasm and warmth coming from the stage inside the New Hall.   Everyone was having a ball!

This American version of the well known Dickens story is a musical of almost operatic quality.  There is no spoken dialogue bar a few words here and there which stand out for their independence; otherwise it is entirely sung and here it was well supported by a 14 strong orchestra and excellent musical director, John Fitton.

With reference to the music, I'll get my only beef out of the way by saying that I found the sound levels of the band - and of the performers' radio mics, too loud for comfort. Otherwise, it was an evening of delight with a wonderful performance by Leon Searle as Scrooge. He brought to it a credible physicality and sang with every fibre of his body, so focused was his performance. He was ably supported by Malcolm Yeates as a touching Bob Cratchit complete with a delightful Anya Felix as a tiny Tiny Tim.

The ambitious set, designed and constructed by producer Steve Gage and Theresa Priscott, created a fire place in front of which Scrooge sat uneasily as ghosts and skeletons emerged through the wood burning stove and via book cases to right and left.  These visitations culminated in the awesome arrival of the ghost of Jacob Marley sung by Martin Chilcott.  He looked wondrous, menacing yet pathetic, wound about with chains and keys and gave a sterling performance bathed in a suitably green and slimy light.





There were several uplifting company numbers in which the dancing and singing would have undoubtedly transformed the spirits of the very worst scrooges amongst us - just as Rick Barfoot did with his portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  In a huge green velvet dress and a holly wreath on his head, he cavorted - and cajoled Scrooge into seeing the error of his ways. His was a whacky performance of profound statements (ignorance shall be mankind's doom) and hearty hoofing with the flappers and tappers around him.

Nathan Banks and Abi Pring played the young lovers, Fred and Emily Anderson. He is Scrooge's nephew with whom Scrooge is eventually reunited.  Fred was played with sincere charm and vocal skill as was his Emily.  Both are talented young performers as is Vicki Roberts who sang the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past with remarkable composure and tenderness.

The vocal achievements throughout the evening must be praised and thanks go to Katy Baker who excelled as singing coach assisted by Daniel Kilshaw at the rehearsal piano.

I must also mention a moment that I enjoyed; the arrival of a posse of drunks (on stage) whose carousing was unusually believable for theatrical drunks!

There were many more marvellous touches; the youngest performers came into the auditorium to celebrate Scrooge's transformation by handing out sweeties; and the last image of the show when the diminutive Tiny Tim atop Scrooge's shoulder spoke out loud and clear... A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO EVERY ONE... 

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