REVIEW: Scroogelicious (Theatre Peckham)

A Christmas Carol is always a popular festive theatre choice but it feels especially appropriate in a year when people are having to choose between eating and heating. If you’re trying to decide between one of the various adaptations playing in London this Christmas, Theatre Peckham offers a very special take on the Dickens classic. As always, the annual Christmas show sees youngsters from the Theatre Peckham Academy take centre stage alongside a cast of professional performers. Scroogelicious brings the story into the 21st century, giving it a typical Peckham twist.

Adapted by Geoff Aymer (the writer of last year’s excellent production The Wonderful), with Theatre Peckham’s Artistic Director Suzann McLean once more at the helm as director, Scroogelicious re-imagines the miserly protagonist as a property developer responsible for the gentrification of Peckham. Ebony Scrooge (KM Drew Boateng) could be a Peckham success story. He’s a local lad who has made a name for himself, first becoming a hot shot lawyer and then a successful businessman. He has the potential to change things for the better, but all he can think about is money, thanks to the “mentorship” of his deceased business partner, Marlene Jacobs (Tomi Egbowon-Ogunjobi).

Ebony isn’t bothered that his property deals are destroying lives and local businesses, and he couldn’t care less about Christmas. Although he appreciates the commercial genius of a holiday designed to get people spending as much money as possible, he knows that it’s just “bare humbug”. It looks like history is doomed to repeat itself, with Ebony enticing his young protégé, Jordan (played on press night by Kiliann Mahile) into a life that puts profit over people. But a Christmas Eve visit from Marlene, followed by a trio of duppies (Caribbean slang for ghosts) has Ebony re-evaluating his life choices.

 (c) Lidia Crisafulli.

It’s another brilliantly inventive adaptation from Aymer, whose witty script and song lyrics are filled with plenty of well-received jokes (including some that went over our heads but had the local audience in hysterics). There is a nice panto feel to proceedings, with the ghostly apparitions giving scope for shouting “it’s behind you” plus a chance for the audience to get up and dance. It all takes place on a fabulously colourful set (designed by Emma Wee) which adds to the distinctly Peckham vibe.

Jordan Xavier’s score showcases an array of different musical styles including rap, RnB, hip hop and funk, offering plenty of opportunities for choreographer Christopher Tendai to shine. The show is filled with lively group numbers, as well as some impressive solo dance moves from Siphiwo Mahlentle and Boateng, who beatbox and breakdance their way through the visit to Ebony’s past. We also loved Ellie Clayton as the hapless Chris Prezzie, a spectre with a poor sense of direction and an insatiable appetite, who enlightens Ebony about the effect of his ruthless capitalist mindset.

As always, the night belongs to the Young Company and it’s lovely to see some familiar faces from past Peckham productions. We had Team Cyan performing at press night, with Team Aqua cheering them on from the front row as usual. It’s a fantastic opportunity for young people to perform in a professional production, alongside seasoned performers, and they all rise to the occasion like a duppie rising from the dead. While the adults play the most familiar roles, the Young Company are by no means just ensemble. They all play essential parts, holding their own alongside the professional performers. Some of the biggest solo numbers are performed by the children, including a rap number by Jude Ugbehe as Young Ebony and some impressive riffing from Flo Swann as Yasmin. With even the youngest members of the company taking on big roles brilliantly, the future is looking bright for this wonderful youth group. Having experienced Theatre Peckham productions past and present, we look forward to their Christmas shows yet to come!

Scroogelicious may be one of many available adaptations of A Christmas Carol this year, but we can safely say that it’s unlike any other. Funny and heartwarming, it’s another brilliant Christmas production from this fantastic venue.

Scroogelicious plays at Theatre Peckham from 1 to 23 December 2022. We received complimentary tickets to the press night on 6 December.