When a run is very, very almost sold out even before the press performance and anyone has had a chance to give it the thumbs up then it’s either one of two things: The play is so well-known and popular that it has a devotee of fans who would follow it wherever/whenever or the theatre company performing have an impeccable record! So when the play in question has never been performed on stage before I think we have to assume it’s down to the reputation of the players and when those players are from Pins and Needles, having now seen a play from them myself, I can safely say I too will be booking in advance to see their stuff from now on!
I consider myself very lucky indeed to have seen one of the first ever performances of the Raymond Briggs penned classic ‘Father Christmas‘ adapted for stage and I, my 3-year-old daughter and even the 7 month old baby thought every single part of the show was top ‘bloomin’ notch! Playing at the Lyric, Hammersmith from now until 5th January (and with a very limited number of seats left available) this has got to be one of the most creative, clever and interesting children’s theatre we have seen. Recommended for the under 6 market I can honestly say I myself enjoyed every single minute and could quite easily go back and see it daily from now until Christmas. I loved everything about it and It couldn’t have been done in any better way as far as I’m concerned.
I do know the book but I had forgotten and hadn’t realised until the start that the play was based on it but as soon as it began I knew! It was instantly recognisable and stayed true to the story which is fairly important when you’re only little I think! We followed Father Christmas as he grumpily and grumblingly moved about his day on 24th December. We watched him from the minute he woke up until his day was over, his work done and he was back in bed ready to face another day! He washes, feeds his animals, grumbles about the weather, moans about being cold and then, despite being crotchety, he lovingly delivers presents to boys and girls all over the world! Such a sweet story and delivered with so much humour from both the writing and the actor! I had said to Florence before we went in that it wasn’t going to be the ‘real’ Father Christmas, that it would, like always, be one of his helpers because the real one is far too busy to be in a play. However, Barry McCarthy (If that is indeed his real name and he’s not, well, you know who!) did such a magnificent job, looked so much the real deal and had that extra little touch of magic one expects, so you never really know do you…
The theatre space is small and it’s a ‘choose your own seat once you arrive jobby’ so it’s fairly relaxed and laid back. We sat in the front row which I wasn’t sure about but actually it was super exciting. We were almost ‘in’ the action if I’m honest and Florence thought that was fabulous! There was another little girl slightly frightened by being so close but for us it was perfect and we got to see the big man up close as close can be, have reindeer flying literally at our feet and when Father Christmas is flying in the clouds, so were we! How do they make the sleigh fly through the sky in a small but perfectly formed theatre? It’s quite something I tell you but it’s done magnificently and is totally believable too! There were so many clever and thoughtful touches to this performance but nothing was ostentatious and over the top; everything felt quite old-fashioned really so I’m not sure how they managed to achieve it but they did! I loved the way they portrayed Father Christmas delivering to everyone around the world because it was such an easy and simple way of doing it that the children totally got it but it was brilliantly clever at the same time! The puppets for the reindeer and other animals were also fabulous and you barely noticed David Emmings as their puppeteer but at the same time knew exactly how well he was performing. It was all just terribly, terribly sweet and awfully brilliant at the same time.
Another aspect to the play which gave it a creative and ‘different’ edge was the part played by music and that came from Kate Adams who sitting up above but right where we could see her, provided all the gentle music and sound effects either with instruments or her voice. She provided the noise for everything from Father Christmas pouring a cup of tea, listening to the radio and cooking his lunch right down to when he was doing a (super entertaining) poo on the toilet! The poo was brilliant but my favourite part of the play is when Father Christmas is negotiating his way down a chimney. The set design for that scene alone is fabulous!
We loved the show and now that I know about this ‘Off West End’ theatre only a 20 minute tube journey from Central London we will be back! Tickets are amazingly good value (For ‘Father Christmas’ they are just £8 each) and they have a wide variety of plays at any given time including an extensive children’s programme! It’s worth noting that after some of the performances for ‘Father Christmas’ and all their children’s plays they have the option of buying a ticket to do a messy play session with crafts and games. Tickets for this are £5 each (adults go free) but if purchased with the show ticket are considerably less at £3. What a fun way to spend a day! The cafe looked lovely too by the way and when I came out of the theatre I noticed an army of Mums who hadn’t been at the show just enjoying the space and atmosphere as they chatted over coffee. I had the most delicious mince-pie there too – nothing to do with the play of course but definitely worth mentioning!
For more information on this and other performances at the Lyric, Hammersmith please see the website www.lyric.co.uk.