Thursday, 6 December 2018

Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas Review, Waterside, Sale, Manchester.

Last year Waterside brought us Raymond Briggs’ The Bear and this year Lyric Hammersmith & Pins and Needles are back with another Raymond Briggs favourite: Father Christmas. We were offered the chance to review and I couldn't wait to say yes.


If you follow my blog you'll know what a huge fan I am of children's books and Raymond Briggs' is a true favourite. Father Christmas is in my top 3 books. I know every single word and frame of the book off by heart, so I was a bit worried it wouldn't be 'right'. I needn't have worried, it was spot on, right down to the sandwiches on the roof and the chattering false teeth.

The story is a day or so in the life of 25th December's busiest man. It's all there, from getting up and dressing, eating breakfast and feeding the animals, through to getting back into his pyjamas full of Christmas dinner and Cognac from good old Fred. This production is as faithful as it can be without being actually hand-drawn.


The set was astounding. Full of secret drawers and opening cupboards, each small door opening was like turning a page in the book and it gave the same pace too, speeding up at points to show thought process or 'time elapses' as with a movie montage. Definite highlights were the live Father Christmas going down the chimney, with the 'cutaway' so that you could watch, and the ease at which scale moved from human-sized to 'rooftop at a distance'.

The performance is carried by Father Christmas himself ( played by Mike Aherne) and he is the only 'visible' actor. His animals are sooooo like the illustrations, despite being 3D puppets. All of the props are as close to the original drawings as possible. It was breathtaking at times for me, especially things like wrongly-spelled signage and when Father Christmas walked across his yard to feed the reindeer.

Alongside Father Christmas and his animals were the Musician and the Puppeteer, Richard Booth, who reminded me of an elf, arriving regularly to be useful and nodding along to Santa's grumbles, wordlessly adding to the performance. The animals were all so believable that it was easy to ignore the fact they were being controlled. He also helped move set, and was supported by a hidden accomplice who we caught glimpses of occasionally... My youngest loves spotting the theatre ninjas.


The 'Musician' Katy Sobey was so much more than that. Sitting in full view at the top of the set and acting in her own right, she played a big array of musical instruments, plus created sound effects throughout. She was the best foley artist you've ever seen, and possibly because you rarely see one in action, utterly fascinating. Never without a smile and a wink to the audience and those Hawaiian sunnies! Awesome.

Alongside 20 minutes of the same verse of Jingle Bells, our trip home was full of "did you see how she made it sounds like brushing hair / pouring water / turning on the gas hob?"... Oh yes we did...

Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas was excellent. The show is recommended for families with children aged 3-11+ and I think that's right. At only 50 minutes, this is an ideal introduction to theatre for younger audience members, but anyone who loves the story and has a little magic left in their Christmas can enjoy Raymond Briggs' grumpy blooming Santa...

Father Christmas will be at Waterside until Monday 31st December, show times vary, so check the Waterside website for more information or to book tickets. 

For a different family's review, visit Going On An Adventure Blog


Show information:
You can pre-book milk and cookie packs for any show at £2 each - when you arrive, please present your voucher at our cookie collection station where your packs will be waiting. To add packs to tickets you have already purchased, please call box office on 0161 912 5616. We bought the children these because they think it's so special and it's a really fair price for a giant cookie and little bottle of milk.

All evening performances are SLUMBER SHOWS and you are welcome to come along in your pyjamas - ideal if your children will fall asleep on the way home. Lots of people come in pyjamas, you will not be the only ones, whatever the weather.

Sat 8 Dec at 18:00 - BSL interpreted performance
Fri 21 Dec at 11:00 - Relaxed & BSL interpreted performance

If you have any questions regarding access information or wish to discuss any special requirements prior to your visit please call box office on 0161 912 5616 or email hello@watersidearts.org and we will be happy to help you.


We were given free entry for review.

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