Theatre review: The Night Before Christmas, Cumbernauld Theatre

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IN A PANTO landscape dominated by five or six familiar stories, this year’s Cumbernauld show offers something completely different, yet still magically bound up in the world of traditional fairytale.

The Night Before Christmas

Cumbernauld Theatre

Star rating: * * *

On the night before Christmas, five little mice hang around under the Christmas tree, waiting for midnight; and while they wait, they tell a series of ten stories, some well known, some less so.

At first, it seems as though director Ed Robson and his five actors may have bitten off more than they can chew; the format is barely explained before the first story starts, and the transition to the second seems bumpy.

Once the pattern is established, though – many small stories, acted out with the help of simple hats and props, and divided by a chime on the clock – the children in the audience begin to enjoy the quick changes, and to revel in the odd well-placed moment of audience participation. The texture of the language is sometimes less than inspired, the quality of the performances varies wildly, the show is perhaps slightly long at two hours; and there’s no doubt that the absence of a strong main narrative limits the depth of the experience.

There’s some fine work, though, from Natalie Wallace, Belle Jones and Kim Allan as a spectacular range of princesses, queens and daughters. And by the end of the show, the children are left with a reassuring feeling that no matter how weird things get in the world of family politics – of estranged fathers, jealous mothers-in-law, and strange little men who try to take people’s babies in return for gold – someone has been there before, and has lived to tell the tale, in simple but persuasive style.