A mad mixture of fun and madness stalks the stage at the Liverpool Playhouse this festive season, in a veritable Christmas pudding of a show.

It all starts off so sanely, as an Ayckbourn-esqe Christmas play with brother, pregnant sister and their spouses and an ‘allo ‘allo French damsel meeting up for Christmas Eve. But soon the mayhem begins with funsters Peepolykus theatre company throwing everything that we know about Christmas into the mix.

Writers Steven Canny and John Nicholson were given free reign by director Gemma Bodinetz – and the zany concoction they came up with should not have worked – but it does!

And the wacky start should have warned us! Murray (Merry?) – a spirit-of-Christmas type figure from Scrooge – appears hovering above the stage, with a lighted match in his hand. This theme is extended as Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of The Little Match Girl is ever present and is woven right through the script.

And into this rich mix we also have time-shifts with our man Jack, played manically by John Nicholson, taken back to Dickensian times with the cast putting in sterling performances in scenes from Oliver and the Old Shoemaker and his wife. We even have a chorus of the chimney-sweeps from Mary Poppins!

Bill Sikes (Milo Twomey) has the audiences in fits as he limps about with his dog Bull’s Eye permanently clasped to his trouser leg. Jack is selfish and has squandered all his pregnant’s wife’s savings on a hair-brained scheme and Murray is trying to show him the error of his ways. Be careful what you wish for, he tells Jack, adding that his future lies in the flicker of a flame – scary words.

This enigmatic white-haired figure – who is he really we wonder – even swaps lives with Jack and the family don’t even notice. Murray, played by Javier Marzan has superb stage presence, forever keeping us wondering just what he is. Is he an elf? Is he Mephistopheles? Is he an Angel? Perhaps he is just the spirit of Christmas.

This show has the lot, melodrama, musical theatre, magic tricks, flying reindeer, a puppet, nativity-like scene, and strange moments when you just have to suspend your imagination. It also has a moral tale, all mixed up in a whirl of a script.

It took a little while to gain its momentum, and there were a few minor hitches, but the end result was unique and well-worth seeing. You won’t see another show like this!

-Jeanette Smith