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REVIEW: Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas

Muddy reviews this warming old-fashioned festive treat for littlies with a one-woman band and cute wooden puppets at Warwick Arts Centre.

A cast of three, including a puppeteer, a musician and one actor, charmingly bring to life Raymond Briggs’ warm, funny and subversive picture book, first published 46 years ago. Many parents will have themselves grown up reading stories by the popular 85-year-old Sussex-based illustrator and author, whose other books include The Snowman.

Raymond Briggs Father-Christmas. Published by Puffin Books © Raymond-Briggs.

The show, a Christmas fixture at London’s Lyric Hammersmith created with Pins and Needles, also visits Warwick Arts Centre this December. My daughter and I saw it on the opening weekend, coinciding with a busy Winter Wonderland themed Family Day on Sun Dec 1.

Emma Earle’s production is an enchanting behind-the-scenes stage retelling of Father Christmas’ most important blooming’ night of the year, from his morning wash and breakfast, to feeding his playful cat and dog to delivering a stash of presents around the world. “Right let’s get this over with,” says Briggs’ grumpy Father Christmas as he puts on his red jacket.

Above the stage is a fairy-light enclosed rooftop attic where a clarinet and castanet playing one-woman band creates an intimate mellow, jazzy soundtrack, and sound-effects ranging from radio weather announcements to a whistling kettle. Cat, dog and two reindeer have been recreated as hand-painted wooden puppets by Max Humphries – and look just like the ones in Briggs’ illustrations.

Father Christmas production by London’s Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Pins and Needles

The production has children in fits of laughter throughout, especially when Father Christmas washes his armpits with a flannel, attempts to retrieve one of his boots from on top of dog’s nose (“Blooming dog”) and shakes his bootie as he gets stuck coming down a chimney (“Blooming chimneys”).

There’s nothing quite like sitting in a warm, cosy auditorium when imagining someone trudging in freezing, falling snow – even if it is fake. A simple yet ingenious hand-painted set by Zoe Squires features the inside of Father Christmas’s home, opening into a street scene full of secret doors and hidden hatches – and a sleigh. You can even see inside a chimney flu as he climbs down and shadow puppetry as he delivers presents.

The gentle humour of this hour-long production will definitely put littlies into a Christmassy mood in the run up to December 25. The easy-to-follow plot is full of festive fun and just the right length for three – six-year-olds.

  • Elsewhere in the building there was colourful rangoli floor art, henna tattooing, storytelling, face-painting, Christmas craft-making and interactive shows, including drumming workshops and hands-on experiments exploring the science of winter.  With seasonal activities also happening in the University of Warwick’s new Oculus building and recently opened Sports and Wellness Hub.

Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas runs at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, until Sun Dec 29. For tickets, performance times and more information, Tel: 024 7652 4524, warwickartscentre.co.uk

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