The Night Before Christmas – Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Writer: Clement Clarke Moore

Adaptor: Hattie Naylor

Director: Roman Stefanski

As the festive period rolls on, many families will be looking for wholesome events where they can establish Christmas memories. Look no further than The Night Before Christmas at the Royal and Derngate. The theatre has gone all out in its attempt to create a magical atmosphere for children, with a range of crafts, a sleigh, shadow puppetry and even a miniaturised Royal Theatre puppet show for the children to devise a show of their own.

A festive collaboration between The Derngate and Polka Theatre, The Night Before Christmas is a modern take on the classic poem by Clement Clarke Moore. Or, rather, the poem is the stimulus that drives the narrative of this show.A relaxed atmosphere is what greets the children as they enter the Underground Studio space, with floor cushions and beanbags so that they can be close to the action.

This two-hand show follows the story of Amber July (Joanne Maroun) who has been sent to live with her grandfather (Dan McGarry) and is enchanted by his stories, in particular his reading of the poem A Night Before Christmas, and the part about the reindeer. Unsure about visiting her Auntie’s busy home over the festive periodAmber is encouraged to visit the ‘magic thinking spaceand this is where the magic begins.

As Amber drifts off to sleep the room is transformed into a dreamscape full of enchanting blue and purple lighting and magical twinkling sounds courtesy of lighting and sound designers Aaron J Dootson and Julian Butler respectively. The sound and light design of the piece is pitch-perfect and bursts with theatrical magic throughout.This quaint twinkling of the dreamscape is promptly burst by the entrance of a stray reindeer, Blitzen (McGarry) who struts into the space blasting Hip Hop music much to the amusement of the children.

It would seem that both Blitzen and Amber have lost their Christmas spirit and they embark on a journey to rediscover it together.

Both actors do a stellar job throughout, and the young audience is enraptured.McGarry has a gift for comic timing and the children roar with laughter at his silly voices as he encourages their physical participation in the magic. Maroun is perfectly juvenile in her characterisation, sweet and naïve without ever stepping into caricature. The energyrebounds from one to another throughout as they tell the story ingeniously using junk laying around following Amber’s move to her grandfather’s house.

Kate Bunce has created some magical designs for this show. Ingeniously disguised as bags and cardboard boxes, things flip and swing open to reveal elaborate mini sets like chimneys, or the workshop of the Elves. Bunce has toyed with dimensions in a fantastically whimsical way, all of the junk being repurposed and miniaturised as it would be in the mind of a child with no concept of scale. The sprinkling of Christmas magic is sewn throughout the narrative of this show, climaxing in a festive treat for its youngest patrons in the final scene.

Unfortunately, due to the location of the space in which they are performing, the foot traffic and crowd noise from upstairs and the scraping of bar furniture can at times drown out the sound from the show and burst the bubble a little of the magic moments being created. It is a real shame that it happens to run alongside the panto in the Derngate building as the atmosphere created by slick direction from Roman Stefanski is truly the Christmas magic that you are looking for.

Sound pollution aside, this is a quaint modern fairy tale, brimming with sparkle and each little audience member will leave the space with a little bit of magic in their eyes. A perfect, relaxed show for the littlest theatre visitors.

Runs Until 31 December 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

A perfect sprinkle of Christmas magic.

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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