ONCE upon a time, there were two shoemakers who were very old and very poor. So poor, they could not even afford to buy each other Christmas presents.

No wood for the fire, only one piece of leather left to make shoes, no wonder there was little festival spirit in the shoemakers’ shop. One night, however, just as the snow begins to fall outside and the clock strikes midnight, two mischievous elves appear at the window,

So begins York playwright Mike Kenny's two-hander adaptation of Grimm's fairytale The Elves And The Shoemakers, this season's show for children aged three and upwards in the York Theatre Royal Studio, directed by associate director Juliet Forster, with designs by Hannah Sibai, music by Ivan Stott, puppetry consultancy by Kelvin Goodspeed and lighting by Simon Bedwell.

Forster also directed last year's Studio Christmas production for children, The Book Of Dragons, while writer Kenny and composer Stott were both involved in Tutti Frutti’s Snow Queen at the Theatre Royal in the autumn.

In the cast will be Niall Costigan, a familiar face on the Theatre Royal stage (and as a waiter at Roots, by the way), and York debutante Peyvand Sadeghian, plus some mischievous elves, made by Peter O’Rourke, who designed the puppetry for the Theatre Royal's main-house summer success, The Secret Garden.

Puppetry will be prominent in Mike Kenny's telling of the Grimm tale. "I've done quite a lot of puppetry in the past, mainly with the Little Angel Theatre Company in Islington, North London, a dedicated puppetry company run by Samantha Love," says Peyvand. "I've done a mix of shows, some theatre shows, and outdoor shows too with big puppets."

"Over the years I've done little bits of puppetry, but I've never worked with puppets this good before," says Niall. "They'd all been pretty simple so far, so, for me, doing this show has been a big learning curve as it's not something I've done on a regular basis. It's been all about understanding how they work and how you tell the story with them."

"It's the first time I've worked with Peter O'Rourke's puppets and he's a master of his craft," says Peyvand. "I've seen his puppets before but to meet him for the first time on the first morning of rehearsals for a few hours and to work with his puppets has been really exciting."

"Juliet saw his puppetry for The Secret Garden and got in touch with him after that," says Niall. "What I love about them is that they look simple but they're already 'alive' as soon as you stand them up, so you only have to do really tiny movements with them."

Writer Mike Kenny says: "It was always vital to me to have puppets in this show because originally it was commissioned for Polka Theatre, the London children's theatre company – the first and only time I've written for them, in 1990 – and puppetry was important to their work.

"So it was always going to have puppets, as it's one of those times where the idea and the context are a perfect match. Having the puppets as the elves and humans as the shoemakers seems to make complete and utter sense!"

As for the Shoemakers, "They're just this side of death; very, very old," says Mike, very Grimmly. "But they still have a lot of life in them, and will have until they're dead, because it's only the world around them that makes them feel useless. They're kind of reminiscent of Samuel Beckett characters..."

..."But there's a spirit in them," says Peyvand. "They love each other; it's a love story!" "They may be old but they're still in love and they're not cynical, either," rejoins Mike.

"And they keep being buoyed by how people always need shoes, so they still have a purpose," says Niall. "If you have a precious skill, like shoe-making, it's an extraordinary thing. It's a joy to behold."

York Theatre Royal presents The Elves And The Shoemakers, York Theatre Royal Studio, December 11 to January 5 2019; performance times vary. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Charles Hutchinson