Elf The Musical - Dominion Theatre - Review
It’s perhaps one of the most popular Christmas movies around, with merchandise flooding the shelves every year and a family rewatch becoming a tradition for many, and since it’s stage debut in 2010, Elf has proven just as loved on stage as it is on screen. With success across North America and beyond, 2022 saw the festive musical return to the London stage for its second run since 2015, returning once more to the vast Dominion Theatre.
It is maybe safe to assume that most people have seen, if not at least heard of, Elf. The film version famously starred Will Ferrell in the leading role of Buddy, who grew up with the elves and Santa in the north pole. When Buddy discovers he is in fact human and not an elf, he travels to New York to meet his real father, learning about life, romance, and the true meaning of Christmas.
Stage favourite Simon Lipkin takes on the role of Buddy here, with the energy and spark of the Duracell bunny, expert comedic timing, and a cheeky grin. It would be easy for him to simply copy Ferrell’s performance, but instead he makes the role his own, giving Buddy more depth and heart than the movie version. Georgina Castle plays Jovie, department store worker and Christmas non-believer, who becomes drawn into Buddy’s childlike way of looking at the world. A charming pairing throughout with believable chemistry, with both Lipkin and Castle impressing vocally with performances raising for the back of the circle with ease.
As Walter Hobbs, Buddy’s work obsessed and angry father, Tom Chambers is able to portray the character arc clearly, for Walter has lessons to learn with the help of Buddy and his younger son Michael (played at this performance by Dexter Barry). Whilst it’s hard to be convinced that he is Buddy’s father, as they don’t look that different in age, this can be forgiven for this cheery Christmas production that overall doesn’t take itself too seriously in the long run. Rebecca Lock puts in an impressive performance as Mrs Emily Hobbs, trying to hold it all together for Michael and help Buddy as much as she can, despite Walter’s issues both with work and with Buddy. Her performance of ‘I’ll Believe in You’ with young star Dexter Barry is particularly heart-warming.
Kim Ismay earns many a laugh as Walter’s assistant Deb, constantly scheduling his meetings and trying to keep an over excited hyperactive Buddy in line in the office, whilst Dermot Canavan’s store Manager has a wonderful energy, standing out and winning over the audience.
This isn’t my first time seeing this production, and every time I have the same thought. It’s a little bit slow to get going, but that isn’t because of the actual pacing. It’s the set. It’s no secret that the Dominion Theatre is a massive venue, and its vast stage needs a lot to fill it. And unfortunately, here, the scenes in the North pole fall a little flat just because of the shear lack of set. A lot is left up to the imagination, with projections instead of set pieces and the stage just feels empty. Once the action hits New York though, the stage is flooded with bright set pieces, Christmas decorations and sparkle, giving the production an almighty lift. Also, having seen this show before, I do have one question. Why has the opening number been changed? ‘Christmastown’ is gone, replaced with ‘Happy all the time’, and whilst there’s nothing really wrong as such with the new song, it doesn’t quite have the same energy as the original number.
The ensemble, playing elves, shop workers, ice skaters and new York residents keep the action bobbing along comfortably, and the whole production has an easy going feel, fizzing with energy. The songs are fun and easily hummable, with ‘Just Like Him’ and ‘Just Sing A Christmas Song’ proving popular with the audience.
Elf may not be the most impactful bit of theatre, but it’s Christmas and you don’t always want something serious and over complicated. You may just want a couple of hours of light entertainment, something to make the whole family smile, and that is what Elf is. It’s light-hearted and fun, and will leave you with a huge smile on your space, even if Christmas isn’t quite your thing.