The test of a children’s production at Christmas is the decibel level achieved by the audience. Interjections and giggles are a good sign. Raucousness is even better. But the sign of total immersion is complete silence. There were moments of spellbinding hush during the most magical set-pieces of Rudolf, this year’s festive production for littlies (aged two to six) at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
In particular the finale, when the scarlet-schnozzled hero pulls a fog-befuddled Santa and his sleigh through the night-time mist, was a pin-drop moment of loveliness which held my little girl rapt.
When the audience did get rambunctious, there was something endearing about their enthusiasm. At a time when politics has got so nasty and divisive, it can be hard to tap into the spirit of Christmas. But the children sticking up for Rudolf with cries of ‘he’s special’ and exhorting his reindeer school tormentor to ‘be nice to Rudolf!’ restored my faith in humanity. These kids had a real sense of social justice.
Actors Peter Hobday and Mitesh Soni gave a high energy performance, both at their best when physically interacting with each other and with the imaginative set. With very simple props the tiny stage convinced as a cozy Arctic pod, a hostile treetop howling in the wind, a play ground and, of course, a sleigh. There were some odd narrative choices – the wraparound story about Esmeralda (a rather magnificent teapot cosy disguised as a chicken) and her refusal to lay eggs seemed a distraction from the main narrative and in particular diluted the magic of the Rudolf finale. Also the presence of the Ugly Duckling was never really accounted for, or given its own satisfactory conclusion.
But small children don’t come to the theatre with the same hang-ups about narrative as grown ups do, and no one else seemed to mind. I expect for all of us though a rousing chorus of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer would have been welcome.
At West Yorkshire Playhouse until December 31.