Fairytale of New York, currently touring the UK and Ireland, is a concert of Christmas songs and traditional Irish music and dance. A karaoke-style evening of singalongs, the show offers some entertaining moments in a very traditional sense, but it lacks the refinement and energy needed to light up a big West End theatre.
The dance numbers are lovely and, if Irish dancing is your thing, you will enjoy this production. The dancers are all very strong within their discipline, and they have a great togetherness, which is heard in the fast-paced rhythmic sound of the tap steps, all in perfect unison. The quality of performance is high, but the choreography feels very conventional and unexciting.
Musically, the performers are highly capable, but the arrangement of these well-known songs is basic, making the piece drawn out and repetitive. Choral singing moments are limited; most songs are sung by an individual, which seems a waste of a large cast of singers. On occasion, Fairytale of New York appears to be more of a tribute concert than a piece with an original identity. This is because stylistically the songs are sung in the exact same way as the original performer sang them – another example of a lack of a creative imprint. That being said, the cast are all technically proficient, but a stand out performer was definitely the delightful Meabh Kennedy on fiddle.
Quite crass video clips of the Irish countryside are interposed between the songs: this I guess is meant to add structure to the evening, but they feel more like advert breaks. In general, it would be clearer if the show decided whether to have a semblance of story or not. When there is storytelling or ‘directed’ moments they distract from the music rather than aiding the experience and, although there are some playful skits, tonally they feel outdated in their values, particularly regarding gender and sexual power.
The piece as a whole is lacking in fluidity. A ballad is followed by a singalong then by a dance number and then this series repeats. This rise and drop of energy becomes tiring and a more dynamic build of momentum could help to keep the performance engaging.
The technical elements are well executed, but the design in general is lacking in creativity. Alistair Penman and Tom Nicholson’s sound and lighting elements work well to accompany the singing, but visually the show feels more like an office Christmas party than a West End performance. The costume design offers identical beauty pageant-style dresses for the women. This fact, along with the almost identical, non-diverse cast gives Fairytale of New York the aesthetic of a show from times long gone.
On the whole, the show is a safe play in terms of song choice, arrangements and overall presentation and thus isn’t memorable or even at times engaging, but there are moments of good craic. It turns out to be a feel-good night of classic Christmas and Irish tunes. However, a lack of identity means the show is confused. Neither a gig nor a musical, the evening fails to live up to its title of ‘fairytale’ but does supply some good old fashioned Christmas cheer.
Creative Director: Ged Graham
Musical Director: Adam Evans
Choreographer: Leanne Kyte
Sound Design: Alistair Penman
Lighting Designer: Tom Nicholson
Fairytale of New York is on tour until 23 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.