ChildrensFestive 19/20North East & YorkshireReview

The Night Before Christmas – The Civic, Barnsley

Writers: Harriet Hardie & Ben Miles

Director: Harriet Hardie

Composer: Rebecca Applin

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Right through, appropriately enough, to December 24th, Bedford-based Full House Theatre is staging The Night Before Christmas at Barnsley Civic. Some of the vocabulary may be a touch difficult for the target audience of 3-plus, but it is an engaging 60-minute show cleverly based on the famous poem by Clement Clarke Moore.

At the outset all is dark, nothing to be seen in the cluttered old-fashioned living room of a set – except some wriggling and shuffling in the fireplace. Then a woman emerges, followed by two men. These turn out to be the members of the Secret Society of Santa Hunters, otherwise known as S.S.S.H. , assembling – via the chimney, of course – for their annual general meeting on Christmas Eve. And they are relieved to find the mince pie untouched – they are in time!

Attempts to sing ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas falter on the word “mouse” until the appearance of a mouse terrifies the men into leaping on the table, but somehow liberates the words. Quotations from the poem neatly, unobtrusively, punctuate the action.

The date is 1969 which gives Harriet Hardie and Ben Miles the opportunity to insert a bit of educational information about the Moon landings; in fact, they are quite keen on painless education – such things as the French for “Happy Christmas”.

The premise for the show is that the Santa hunters carry out scientific research throughout the year into the existence and appearance of Santa Claus and come together on Christmas Eve to report their findings and track Father Christmas in the hope of an actual sighting.

 

Ben Hammond, Gareth Cooper and Rebecca Bailey are earnestly geeky or, in the case of the two chaps, totally childish. Parody of the scientific method is gently amusing and aided by the 1969 setting which enables them to treat “facsimile machines” and television links to the United States as cutting edge technology.

They try out the newest toy, the space hopper, and carry out “scientific” tests on evidence, with the funniest and most coherent section consisting of each in turn assuming a rather over-the-top accent to report sightings from Wales, France and Australia (Santa’s sleigh pulled by kangaroos) in order to build an identikit picture of Santa. The recurrent song at this point, partly derived from the original poem, is jolly and jaunty and fits the mood perfectly. Generally Rebecca Applin’s music establishes the mood and underscores the action most successfully. However, the other songs are pleasant enough, if hardly memorable.

Hammond, Cooper and Bailey work well as a team, both verbally and physically, and put the songs over effectively. Mic Kemp and Esteniah Williams’ set design is ingenious as well as attractive, with all sorts of concealed cupboards to produce space-hoppers or a television out of.

Direct involvement with the audience is not part of the production style, but it’s nice to see pictures from Barnsley school-children used as part of the evidence for a portrait of Santa.

 

Runs until 24th December 2019 | Image: Shaun Armstrong

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