REVIEW: Father Christmas, Pins & Needles (Lyric Hammersmith)

Blooming Christmas is upon us once again. These days the run up to Christmas is filled with stress about Nativity costumes and presents, while Christmas Day entails trying to calm down over-excited munchkins after having stayed up far too late putting together bikes because you’re too stubborn to let a man in Halford’s do it for you. Oh for the good old days when Christmas meant a chocolate-filled countdown to Santa’s arrival, then settling down to watch the Channel 4 adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas while the grown-ups did something important in the kitchen. Thankfully this Christmas classic has also been adapted for the stage by Pins & Needles. So this weekend, we went along to the Lyric Hammersmith to try and find some Christmas spirit. We even took Auntie Poppins along too.

The storyline of Father Christmas is very simple. It’s that time of year again and poor old Santa has to brace the cold weather to do his annual duty. We follow him on Christmas Eve as he goes about his daily routine, from grumpy wake up through to loading the sleigh and delivering the presents, before it’s back home for his own Christmas Day celebrations. It perfectly captures the spirit of the source material, with the slightly sour Santa (who lives alone in a distinctly average house with an outdoor loo) not desperately keen to get out in the cold but ultimately proud of his very important job. He is joined on stage by a range of puppets (designed by Max Humphries) to represent his animal companions, the cuddly cat who sleeps on his bed, cheeky dog who is always slobbering on his socks and his trusty reindeer who pull his sleigh. The beautiful wooden reindeer puppets are particularly impressive, especially when the big moment comes and they take off into the night sky.

Every moment is carefully constructed, accompanied by an on-stage Foley artist who plays a dizzying number of different instruments (sometimes simultaneously). It’s a really inventive way of incorporating Lucy Rivers’ sound design, which gives the audience a glimpse of the skill and effort that goes into making sound effects. It’s also very funny, with the musician feeding off the action and occasionally joining in. Mummy could have quite happily watched her for the entire show. But there was plenty more action going on around her.

Zoe Squire’s set design is intricate and clever, making brilliant use of the space. Every inch is used, from ground level to rooftop, with lots of little doors and drawers to open and explore. We even see Santa shuffle down a chimney in one of the most entertaining scenes of the show (perhaps rivalled only by his morning toilet trip, complete with ‘plop’ sound effects). Though much of the humour is aimed squarely at the children, there are some asides to the adults too, including Santa sniffing dismissively at milk and home-baked cookies, but gladly downing a glass of something more enticing. And a party political broadcast that interrupts his radio station while he’s taking a well-earned break.

We all absolutely loved Father Christmas, even though both munchkins are above the age recommendation (of under 6). And we would certainly not not be put off by this recommendation if you have children in Key Stage 1. Only the sassiest 7 year old is likely to consider themselves too cool for this magical production. It’s a perfect adaptation of the much-loved classic which will delight youngsters and fill their grown-ups with nostalgia. A blooming marvellous treat which every family should have on the top of their Christmas show list.

RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles, Mittens and Brown Paper Packages (aka all 5 of my favourite things).

Father Christmas plays at the Lyric Hammersmith from 20 November to 29 December 2019.