REVIEW: Ferris & Milnes – Christmas Cracker (Ambassadors Theatre) ★★★

I first saw Ferris and Milnes in June this year when they performed 31 West End musicals in under ten minutes at West End Live. After being delighted throughout, I was very much looking forward to their festive West End debut at the Ambassador’s Theatre and am happy to say that, musically, the duo did not disappoint.

Appropriately titled Ferris and Milnes’ Christmas Cracker, the show had plenty of spark, the odd surprise and when pulled apart, more than one cheesy joke. Taken all in good fun, it was a jolly evening, the audience certainly loved it, but I sense that perhaps it is a rather specific audience-type that Ferris and Milnes cater to. Some jokes went entirely over my head (I feel like I need a degree in musical history now) and unfortunately, others came across as a little dated.

That is not to say I didn’t laugh at all, there were some excellent (if somewhat standard) gags and I completely understood the age-old Hollywood double act tone, so much so that I could almost visualise the shaky, studio set as if I was viewing it on a small television screen from the 1960s. But unfortunately, in attempting to resurrect the Golden Hollywood Double Act, there are one or two problematic tropes that should have stayed dead.

I wasn’t very keen on the ‘rap vs classical’ music skit in the first act, in which a group of ‘rappers’ became part of the show’s choir after proving that they too loved classical music and could sing it. It came off as a little classist, with the ‘rappers’ all adopting distinctly Cockney accents as opposed to the Queen’s English of the choir, not to mention a line in which someone feigned surprise that one of the rappers could read. Furthermore, whilst there was a deliberate attempt to not look down on rap music, the ‘let’s celebrate diversity’ message was diminished to an extent by the entirely white cast and the fact that it seemed to mean ‘Let’s make these rappers sing classical music instead’. No attempt was made to teach music the other way around, which would have been fun to see, but this is probably fortunate as the ‘rappers’ were not actually rapping at all – their talents, as set up by the show, lie elsewhere, in choral singing.

The first act came off as part community panto, part BBC archive footage. As a skit, I wasn’t a fan, but fortunately, the musical performances saved the show. As my companion noted, you don’t get to hear voices and piano performances like this every day.

For this reason, the second act was far better than the first, as Ferris and Milnes got into the swing of things and do what they do best: stunning music and crowd-pleasing medleys that really do cater to everyone. The performance of ‘The Entire Score of West Side Story in 8 minutes’ was a particular highlight, as well as stunning renditions of O Holy Night and White Christmas by the choir made up of ArtsEd students – I definitely spotted a few future Mariuses and ‘Ponines in there. As for the eponymous duo themselves, Martin Milnes has a spectacular voice and Dominic Ferris is a joy to behold on the piano. All in all the second act was what I hoped for after what I saw back in June at West End Live.

Overall, I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening with Ferris and Milnes, despite some dodgy jokes and the odd missed lighting cue. The star of the show is the music and Ferris and Milnes’ real talent is the unique and enthusiastic way they work with it.

Reviewed by Laura Stanley
Photo: Samuel Black Photography