6 Dec 2018

Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas At Waterside Arts

It’s becoming something of a Christmas tradition in our house to kick off the festive season with a visit to Waterside Arts in Sale, Manchester to watch their Christmas family show. Last year, it was Raymond Briggs’ The Bear, and this year it was Father Christmas. Pins and Needles are well known for their fabulous quality theatre for early years, families and young adults, and Father Christmas is no exception. From clever set designs and ingenious use of props, they have brought Raymond Briggs’ much loved book to life, staying true to the original from start to finish.

The story revolves around, you guessed it, Father Christmas. Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas comes across as a grumpy old man going about his business and moaning about his job like any other person. Only difference is he has this really special job of delivering presents to children all over the world in a magic reindeer sleigh!

We follow him from the moment he wakes up on Christmas Eve, all the way through to the end of Christmas Day. We watch him as he complains about the miserable weather as he goes about preparing breakfast, feeding his reindeer, loading his sleigh with presents and packing some sandwiches and a flask of tea (and his radio), ready to fly off delivering presents. There are moments of pure hilarity, like when he is doing a number 2 (yes, that detailed!) What is it with children and poo is beyond me, but it had the young ones in the audience and some of the parents chuckling. And then when he tries to wriggle down a particularly challenging chimney.

Mike Aherne in the lead role of Father Christmas is simply delightful. He looks so at ease playing his part, you almost wonder if he is the real thing and you are actually getting a sneak peek into the normal, ordinary working life of Father Christmas. Richard Booth is the talented puppeteer who works all the animal puppets and goes about efficiently changing the set. We were sat right at the front and it was mesmerising to watch him mimic not only the sounds but the facial expressions and the body language of the animals he was controlling. He was purring like the cat and bouncing around like the excitable little dog.

Katy Sobey was outstanding as the musician of this entire piece. I could only marvel at her immense talent. She played a range of musical instruments like the ukele and the saxophone. She used all sorts of everyday objects to provide the sound effects to reflect what was happening on stage. So when Father Christmas poured a cup of tea from his kettle, she was pouring water from a jug in front of a microphone to create the sound. Her timing was spot on and she switched between musical instruments and this plethora of objects effortlessly. It’s not often you actually get to see the music makers in a theatre show, and my 7 year old mentioned this too. He thought Katy’s sound effects were simply brilliant.

The most memorable moment for him and me as well, was when Father Christmas came out in his reindeer sleigh. We were just a couple of feet away from the reindeer; I could have touched their noses with an outstretched hand. They were puppets, but created the illusion of being alive. It was just magical.

Father Christmas has a running length of 50 minutes with no interval, making it perfect for children aged 3+ and their families. It is showing at Waterside Arts all through December and will make a fantastic festive treat for all the family. You can make your experience extra special by ordering a milk and cookie pack for £2. All evening performances are slumber shows, so feel free to turn up in your pyjamas or onesies.

Disclosure: We were guests of Waterside for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own. All images are courtesy of Waterside.

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