Review: Elf

Christmas spirit is in short supply: can Buddy the Elf save the day?

Elf the Musical

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin


It’s always something of a worry when Christmas stories feature cynical adults who don’t believe in Santa Claus. Isn’t there a chance that kids watching might hear only the declarations of “there’s no such thing as Santa”, forget the magical conversion that follows, and start asking their parents hard questions on the way home?


This isn't, however, the biggest problem with Elf. The chief drawback of the musical, adapted from the Hollywood movie, is that the character of Buddy the Elf is an irritant rather than a loveable idiot. A human who grew up thinking he was an elf, Buddy (Ben Forster) blunders around New York looking uncannily like a cross between Rory McIlroy and Bosco. He's so charmless that when long-lost father Mr Hobbs (Joe McGann) reacts to Buddy's arrival at his office by barking "call Security", it's hard not to think that this might be for the best.

The New Yorkers are jaded, mostly as a result of working long hours under terrible conditions as shop store elves or cut-price Santas, though the exploitation of seasonal workers is scarcely Elf's concern. Instead, pesky animal-rights activists have forced the "real" Santa (a booming Mark McKerracher) to dispense with reindeer and power his sleigh with Christmas spirit gleaned from the human population. But as this is in short supply, Santa's sleigh is grounded until downbeat adults get themselves off the naughty list.

There are some pluses. Love/Hate's Aoibhinn McGinnity is suitably twinkly as Jovie, the Macy's worker who agrees to go on a date with Buddy, and Jessica Martin is assured as Mrs Hobbs. The young actor playing Michael Hobbs on this particular night (four actors share the role) gives a delightful vocal performance, giving rise to the suspicion that a truly festive-feeling production would benefit from the presence of more children.

The closing sequence features one very nice piece of staging in which Santa's sleigh triumphantly rises up into the air and comes out over the heads of the audience. It's just unfortunate that so much of what passes before this climax is flat: Elf might get away with its clanging dialogue if it had thrilling song-and-dance numbers, and with more wit, it might survive unremarkable choreography. But a final tap-fest and a gag that Santa uses an iPad now (he's addicted to "Candy Cane Crush") is as good as it gets.

Ends Jan 10

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics