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Father Christmas, sat on a toilet doing a poo? With someone saying ‘plop’ for sound effects?
Those of you who are familiar with Raymond Briggs’ take on Father Christmas’ big day, will know that it’s a warts-and-all tale. This Santa is cross about Christmas, grumpy in the cold, and fantasizes about sunny beach holidays while he’s loading up his sleigh with presents.
But the Pins and Needles production of Father Christmas I took my daughter to see at the Lyric, Hammersmith didn’t lack any magic and sparkle, despite the grouchy main man. Santa (played by Billy Riddoch in our show) managed to come across as cuddly as well as curmudgeonly. There wasn’t much sight of the beaming smile seen on the cover of Raymond Briggs’ book, but he still had the audience of small people in peals of laughter (we went on a weekday, and shared the auditorium with a couple of nursery school parties).
So grumpy, yes, but this Santa can still find his way to the children’s hearts. What’s not to love about a bit of slapstick and a few poo jokes, when you’re a three-year-old? My daughter’s own favourite moment was when Santa was shivering melodramatically while dressing in the chilly air. And Father Christmas eats not just one but two slap-up meals over the course of this short (55 min) performance, which also prompted much pre-school excitement.
It’s the set design and music that makes this show feel so special for the festive season. Max Humphries’ puppets (a dog, cat and reindeer) are Scandi-cute, with upturned noses and gangly limbs; there were gasps of wonder when the reindeer and sleigh burst out of the garage. Zoe Squire’s clever props allowed a small stage to be transformed into Santa’s house (complete with outdoor commode and reindeer stable); a street of rooftops with a chimney that Father Christmas almost gets stuck in; and a starry sky for the flying scene, where real (fake) snow tumbles down onto Santa and his reindeer.
We were treated to a live musician (Rachel Dawson in our performance), who darted between percussion and string instruments to build an emotional charge – deep double bass for when Santa was sad; fiddle and folk music for the joyful flying scene. Lucy Rivers’ score gave the show energy and verve, and we left with Christmassy music buzzing around in our heads.
Father Christmas at the Lyric is advertised as being a good first theatrical experience for very young children, and I’d say that was spot-on. It didn’t have the interactive elements that some older children enjoy, but my daughter (aged three) can get spooked when actors start roaming around in the audience, or throwing things into the crowd, so for her this was a nice, gentle way to begin the festive season. And I thought it was magnificent.
Father Christmas is suitable for children under 6. Find out more about the show on the Lyric Hammersmith’s website.
Update: Father Christmas is at the Lyric, Hammersmith from 22 November until 24 December 2017. Tickets are £10, but you can win a set of four (a family ticket) in our facebook competition. Just click here for more details.