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Review: The Night Before Christmas, Polka Theatre

If you want to excite your little ones with the magic of the season this year then Polka Theatre’s sparkling production of The Night Before Christmas will definitely have them squealing with delight. This enchanting new play, written by Hattie Naylor, was inspired by Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem. It’s Christmas Eve, but Amber (Leda Douglas), aged 6¾, has just moved into a tiny flat with her Grandad (Phil Yarrow), and just isn’t feeling the joy of the season. She doesn’t want to spend the day with her extended family because she’s conscious she’s the littlest, instead all she…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

A truly beautiful show filled with magic, laughter and delightful imagination. It takes off gently, but will leave you catching your breath with excitement as you soar through the starry sky with Santa’s reindeer to find the spirit of Christmas.

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If you want to excite your little ones with the magic of the season this year then Polka Theatre’s sparkling production of The Night Before Christmas will definitely have them squealing with delight.

This enchanting new play, written by Hattie Naylor, was inspired by Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem. It’s Christmas Eve, but Amber (Leda Douglas), aged 6¾, has just moved into a tiny flat with her Grandad (Phil Yarrow), and just isn’t feeling the joy of the season. She doesn’t want to spend the day with her extended family because she’s conscious she’s the littlest, instead all she really wants is a reindeer. Grandad settles her down for bed with a verse from her favourite poem. But during the night she has a remarkable visitor, and together they set off on a glittering adventure to find the spirit of Christmas and fix a special, broken snowglobe.

Meticulously directed by Roman Stefanski and full of old-school Polka charm, this production offers loads of laughter along with simple yet enabling ingenuity that kids will undoubtedly reinvent at home. Honestly, the details within Kate Bunce’s breathtakingly clever set design are so delightful you will audibly gasp, and it’s all perfectly enhanced by Aaron J Dootson’s skilful lighting. Additional uplifting music and songs add another level of atmosphere and enjoyment to the tale, so you might find yourself still singing along the next day (I know I did!).

It’s a truly funny script, clearly enjoyed by the two performers, who give it their all. The story starts off gently, introducing us to the basic plot before an impressive twist where the magic begins in earnest. Douglas and Yarrow work together with exhilarating energy to reinvent the possibilities of a beige council flat and create a totally captivating environment for their tiny spectators. With exquisitely imaginative use of puppetry and the objects around them, they transport us to exciting destinations while never leaving the room. It certainly had the whole audience of 3-7 year-olds engaged and giggling throughout the show. My personal favourite moment was the Mission Impossible sequence where a Scandinavian Donner the Reindeer masterminds Blitzen’s extraction from a particularly narrow chimney. You need to see it to believe it…

Yarrow’s fabulous comic performance as Blitzen had the audience in stitches, and is impressively distinct from the gentle character of Grandad he also portrays. Meanwhile, Douglas plays an excellent petulant six-year-old imitating farm animals, but clearly understands her audience, recognising the children wanting to join in and welcoming participation. But they are both at their best jumping around the room with excitement, as Amber and Grandad animate the full poem towards the end of the show, revelling in the joy of being together at Christmas. There is a lovely message within the adventure that spells out everyone has value, no matter their size, and that there can’t be a front without a back. It is never preachy, instead using laughter, friendship and understanding to create a warm and joyful atmosphere of inclusion at Christmas.

Without giving away any spoilers, the whole thing rises to a crescendo of excitement and spectacle, with a surprise you will not want to miss. This is the bit where your family will go wild with excitement! The spirit of Christmas is genuinely in the Adventure Theatre this year – take them all along and enjoy the magic together!

Written by: Hattie Naylor
Directed and Puppetry Consultancy by: Roman Stefanski
Produced by: A Polka Theatre and Royal & Derngate, Northampton

The Night Before Christmas plays at Polka Theatre until 16 January. Further information and booking via the below link.

About Mary Pollard

By her own admission Mary goes to the theatre far too much, and will watch just about anything. Her favourite musical is Matilda, which she has seen 13 times, but she’s also an Anthony Neilson and Shakespeare fan - go figure. She has a long history with Richmond Theatre; in Marketing, as a tour guide, archivist and volunteer, but is currently having fun volunteering at the Polka Theatre, which makes sense as she is ET's specialist in children's theatre and puppetry! Mary insists on now being called The Master having used the Covid pandemic to achieve an MA in London's Theatre and Performance.