Review: Christmas Voices @ George Hotel

Intimate Theatre’s Christmas Voices has become a festive tradition locally at both the George Hotel and Middleton Hall, and a very welcome one too.

There’s really nothing quite like these review-type shows – clever, quirky, seeking out the fresh and unfamiliar and always with superb production values.

This year’s programme, devised and directed by the legendary Elle Knight is no exception, a charming mix of the light-hearted and the seasonally sentimental, beautifully performed by a half-dozen hand-picked cast. Here songs, thanks to musical director June Gill, poetry, prose extracts and sketches jostle for attention in a menu that mingles laughter with material that’s often unexpectedly moving.

Subject matter ranges from Alfred Wainwright rhapsodising on the spectacularly snowbound Lake District via the tearily sentimental (Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Match Girl) to Gervase Phinn’s comically anecdotal asides.

Ian Davies, Ellie Galvin, Maureen George, Ian Henderson, Ken Knowles and Fiona Willimott are mutually generous ensemble players but still certain items stood out – Ms Willimott’s lauding of the medical benefits of the demon drink in Sue Orlando’s very funny sketch Health Notice For Seniors, Ellie Galvin’s rendition (she sings and plays guitar) of Paul William’s Bless Us All, and the words of Ian Davies’ Bitter Sweet poignantly brought to the stage.
Particularly charming was the chance for us all to sing two of those once-learned-by-heart carols, Once in Royal David’s City and O Come All Ye Faithful, transporting us instantly back to the childhood wonder of half-remembered Christmases long ago.

But even in the most august company there’s always a star, and here it must be Ken Knowles’ outrageously incompetent magician and flea-circus ringmaster, Maestro Maserati who definitely deserves his own show along with the incomparable Fifi the invisible flea.

The spectacular whole-cast finale, hectic with stage business, “If I Were Not Upon The Stage” was pure panto, rounding off a truly delightful evening filled with that most elusive of seasonal commodities, the true spirit of Christmas. God bless them, every one.