Derby Theatre, Thursday 2nd January, 2014
This year’s Christmas show at Derby Theatre is a refreshing departure from the ubiquitous traditional fare – although there are some elements of panto to it: we get to boo the baddies and cheer the good guys, for example.
Horrible Histories mastermind Terry Deary has written a story that amuses and informs without being didactic or labouring its message. Young boy Watson (Mark Newnham) sneaks downstairs in the middle of the night to open a couple of presents, only to witness the arrival of evil Sidney Claus, the antithesis to Father Christmas, and his reindeer sidekick Rudolph. This pair has come to steal the presents rather than deliver any. Sidney’s master plan is to destroy Christmas forever.
Watson teams up with chirpy detective Shirley Holmes (Sarah Pelosi) and the scene is set for a time-travelling romp that takes us back to Charles Dickens, Oliver Cromwell, Henry VIII and so on, all the way to Bethlehem and King Herod. On the way we learn about the origins of certain traditions like roast turkey for dinner and Christmas stockings, but these facts are always incidental to the fun.
Andrew Vincent is an enjoyable villain, with Simon Snashall amusingly dim as his side of venison. The ensemble double up on parts; favourites for me are Elizabeth Rose as Oliver Cromwell’s dour Mrs debunking Christmas carols (Good ‘King’ Wenceslas was only a Duke, you know) the Puritans’ production number and the marvellously flamboyant, rapping Charles II.
As you’d expect, if you’ve seen the brilliant TV series, there is a lot of silliness, fun with anachronisms, and plenty of wit in the lyrics to the jolly songs.
In fact, my only reservation is it’s not horrible enough. The emphasis here is on fun and there is even a touching moment of forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s just that I was expecting a bit more gore and a lot more pooh.