It is difficult to describe Sandi Toksvig’s recipe for her first Christmas show at the Royal Festival Hall.
The diminutive comedienne has concocted a variety-hall style entertainment show featuring an eclectic line-up of acts which runs the gamut from silly to stylish, quaint to quirky; so Laurence Olivier Award-winner Maria Friedman appears alongside a magician, a small singing child and a trio of opera singers in disguise, threaded together by an ongoing story involving a demented fairy and her mute suitor. And that’s just the first half.
The second sees the guest-star of the night – at yesterday’s performance Stephen Mangan – play Scrooge in a speedy recreation of Dickens’s festive tale A Christmas Carol. Hastily enacted and intentionally under-rehearsed – Mangan reads his script out of a book – the skit has the air of a school play about it, with Toksvig as an encouraging yet sardonic drama teacher, ever-present during the haphazard proceedings.
The show is billed as starring Ronnie Corbett, and though he does indeed feature in the show – doubling the output of sizeist jokes – it is Toksvig who holds things together throughout the substantial running time. Corbett pops up as a ghost in the Dickens sketch, and later to tell us a story or two, a reminder of his television hey day with Ronnie Barker during the 1980s.
That is apt, because there is something distinctly old-fashioned about this show. A couple of smutty jokes aside which would no doubt go over the heads of children, Toksvig has aimed this squarely at a family audience, and there is nothing risqué or offensive in her creation. She also throws in plenty of audience participation and ends the show with a mass singalong which no doubt aims to warm the cockles and remind us of the spirit of Christmas.
It certainly appealed to last night’s audience who joined in the singalong with enthusiasm, filling the cavernous space of the Royal Festival Hall. Perhaps they had all been down to the German Christmas market beforehand for a glass of Glühwein or two…