Review: Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas, West Yorkshire Playhouse

4:07pm Wednesday 18th December 2013

By Charles Hutchinson

WRITER Mike Kenny and director Gail McIntyre’s Christmas collaborations had become a West Yorkshire Playhouse staple for young children, but this winter marks a change.

In comes the Playhouse partnership with the Lyric, Hammersmith and Pins and Needles for a 50-minute play designed for six year olds and under.

Happy Bloomin’ Christmas, this year is the 40th anniversary of Briggs’s cherished story that follows a day in the life of one Father Christmas. Make that THE day in his life, or rather THE day in his calendar each year when December 23 turns into December 24, as he wakes from a dream of summer sun to the reality of his busiest day and longest night of the year.

In Pins and Needles’ adaptation, Seamus O’Neill’s hard-pressed, bluff yet avuncular Father Christmas goes through his routine of ablutions, breakfast, cat and dog-feeding and last-minute preparations before his sky-at-night journey across the world with his truly magical reindeer.

O’Neill is accompanied on stage by nimble animal puppeteer Annie Brooks, while musician and foley (sound) artist Naomi Lee Schulke is a show within a show, sat high up on her own podium on designer and illustrator Zoe Squire’s box-of-tricks stage. Lee Schulke is not only a gifted musician, but also wonderfully expressive too as she creates all the myriad sounds, so clearly enjoying performing Lucy Rivers’ compositions too.

Emma Earle’s production is a visual wonder and a verbal pleasure, capturing both a child’s excitement and expectation on Christmas night and yet the unflustered, seen-it-all-before demeanour of Father Christmas, radio by his side, calmness personified as he has his snack.

Tickets for this enchanting adventure would make a perfect Christmas present.

Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, until January 11 2014. Box office: 0113 213 7700.

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