Scooby-Doo Live! Musical Mysteries continues at the London Palladium.
Star rating: two stars ★ ★ ✩ ✩ ✩
The Scooby-Doo cartoons are a pretty iconic example of 1960s cartoon culture and held in great affection by those who grew up with them. The trouble is that they are now so well known they’ve turned into a ‘brand’ and that is rarely a basis for good quality theatre.
The creators are so busy keeping the brand recognisable that there is no scope for imagination, surprise or anything theatrically interesting. It becomes a matter of feeding the theatrically unsophisticated audience more of what they already know, and frankly they might as well be at a film.
None of that is to say that writer and director Theresa Borg and her cast of eight (plus one swing) haven’t worked very hard to create something that seemed to be holding the attention of most of the children sitting near me – at least until the final scene when there’s great deal of wordy Hercule Poirot-style explanation which goes over the heads of most of the audience who are by then pretty fidgety.
Scooby Doo and his four human friends are invited to solve the mystery of the theatre ghost at the Palladium. And of course it isn’t even a spoiler to reveal that it’s the manager (John McManus, who sings and dances rather well) and his brother (Martin Neely) the stagehand who used to be a stage act, aided and abetted by Muriel (played by Kate England) because it’s obvious from Scene 2.
Scene changes are a problem in this show. Cartoons operate on short scenes in different settings. Theatre doesn’t. There is over reliance on black-out and far too much pushing on and off of scenery. The lighting is equally clumsy. Green spots are swung round the audience from downstage every time the pantomime-style ghost appears. And surely composer Craig Bryant could have thought of something more original than just repeatedly shifting into a minor key to signify the jokey ghostly presence?
There is plenty of energy from the cast though. Joe Goldie encased in a whole body Scooby-Doo suit, dances with aplomb. I hate to think how hot he must get. Charlie Haskins as Shaggy works well with him too, although Katie Ditchburn’s choreography is distinctly ordinary.
Rebecca Withers strides about entertainingly as Velma and Charlie Bull flirts, preens and sings nicely as Daphne. Of course hammy overacting is part of the deal in a show like this so Chris Warner Drake as Fred is probably just doing what he’s been directed to do. Most of the cast seem to be British and they all sustain those harsh cartoon-style American accents adequately.
On the whole though, this musical is a classic case of shallow, lacklustre lentertainment – beloved of producers because it attracts huge audience numbers. It is, in my view, sad that so many parents take their children to this sort of thing when there is so much excellent young audience theatre available which works on children’s imaginations and provides an in-depth artistic experience. All good theatre is entertaining, but the best is also a great deal more.