‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for a… rat. Yes, Napoleon the rat has escaped again and Joe (Andy Umerah) needs to track him down. Little does he know he’ll soon be on a more urgent treasure hunt to help save the Cracker family home!
Joe lives at a pet shop, with his mum (Amy Loughton) and sister Maia (Sera Mustafa). This year his mum is being forced to sell their home, where the family have lived for generations, to make ends meet. When Great Grandma Cath (Erika Poole) reveals the legend of diamonds that are mysteriously missing in the house he determines to find them and save the day.
From the moment the play begins the audience are excited, engaged in spotting Napoleon and anticipating the fun to come. Liz Cooke’s wonderfully detailed set is cleverly designed, with secret compartments here there and everywhere to constantly surprise us as Napoleon pops up. The house is a bit run down because the Crackers are short of cash, but traditional flying ducks on the wall and groovy bits of wallpaper tell of generations gone by; of the good old days shared by family.
This is a top cast, each of them bringing beaming smiles and shedloads of charisma that instantly creates a feelgood atmosphere. Umerah is a superb, sparkling storyteller, a natural entertainer who just has the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he steps on stage. Of course, every Cracker must contain Dad jokes, and he delivers them to the kids with engaging style. He’s confident, cheeky, and a virtuoso in audience interaction, yet still has a delightful innocence and appealing charm that underscores the sentiment of the tale.
Mustafa’s Maia plays a brilliant foil to Joe, with masterful sibling squabbling and teenage tantrums, while Loughton is wonderfully entertaining as their mum, sporadically emitting surprising and totally ridiculous animal noises under stress. Poole’s eccentric ninja grandma is comically animated, energised by her relationship with her grandson in the quest to find the diamonds.
The best laughs are, however, from the fabulous Phil Yarrow, who is extraordinarily funny both as the adorable sports teacher, Mike, and the nasty Mr Dribble. His farcical slapstick and visual comedy are simply masterful, making the audience shriek with laughter each and every time he hits the floor or walks into a wall. This man has astonishing timing and precision; it’s quite remarkable and utterly hilarious!
Crackers is a totally gleeful production, and an absolute antidote to austerity. In an age where many shows are stupidly expensive and come with an excess of bells and whistles, this is beautifully old-school Polka, focussing instead on the value of imagination, superb storytelling and physical comedy to create magic out of the ordinary: in fact, they literally put the whistle down the toilet. And it’s sensitively timely: many families are cutting back this Christmas, so to put love, caring and collaboration at the core of the story feels absolutely right.
If you’re looking for a light-hearted, festive show this year that offers great fun for the whole family, this production is just perfect.
Written by Charlie Way
Directed by Nicky Allpress
Set and Costume Designer – Liz Cooke
Lighting Designer – Anna Reddyhoff
Sound Designer – Anna Short
Puppet Designer and Maker – Michael Fowkes
Movement Director – Dave Hearn
Crackers plays at Polka Theatre until 15 January. Further information and bookings can be found here.