Home / Childrens / Where’s Father Christmas – Oxford Playhouse, Burton Taylor Studio

Where’s Father Christmas – Oxford Playhouse, Burton Taylor Studio

Writer and Director: Helen Eastman

Reviewer: David Aldridge

[Rating: 4]

This production is probably best described as a live, interactive experience for young children (the age range suggested in the promotional material, 3 to 6 years, gets it about right). Audience members (apprentice wrappers) are greeted and led to the “wrapping room”, where they find the intimate space of the Burton Taylor studio decked out with comfy cushions and positively crammed with exciting props to occupy their attention from the start. Your young companions will enjoy speculating on whose winter thermals are hanging from the ceiling, and what might be the purpose of the various coloured sacks arranged around the room. From the outset, children are addressed and drawn into the events as participants, and the core concept of the show – providing something of a bridge for young children between the well-known seasonal visit to Santa’s grotto, and the perhaps less familiar theatre experience – is carried through from beginning to end. Exactly the right balance is struck between children’s party entertainment and magical theatre, and the running time (an exceptionally restrained 50 minutes) ensures that the young audience’s attention is maintained throughout.

A variety of different experiences are packed into this short period. The children are entertained by some confidently executed songs, and also taught one or two, in which they participate with enthusiasm. There are games, art-making activities and plenty of interaction with both cast members, who are not at all phased by the inevitable errant toddler addressing them during moments of exposition. Helen Eastman threads these experiences together with a narrative that is simple enough to follow, but nevertheless surprises and rewards. The set is attractive and crammed with detail, and one or two simple technical tricks are carried out with great competence to maximum surprise effect. Of course the whole experience is held together by the two cast members, Trevor Allan Davies (who perhaps confuses things very slightly by starting the show off looking a few meals away from an otherwise authentic Santa) and a wide-eyed Peter Twose. Both skilfully walk the fine line required when engaging young participants in the narrative but nevertheless needing to tell the story. Each of them also displays an impressive range of theatre talents, including musicianship and some fantastic puppetry, which combine to make the event a lasting memory.

There is plenty here for the adults to enjoy, too, including one stand-out duet on the different names of Father Christmas, which was inventive in both form and content – but of course the real satisfaction will be watching your young companion rapt (wrapped!) in the unfolding events, shouting at naughty reindeer and dancing with the penguin detectives.

Runs until Sunday 30th December

Picture: Madeleine Woolgar


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