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Grotto (Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Venue: Lass O'Gowry
Where: Manchester

In a department store grotto, Santa and his elves are waiting to make children's wishes come true – only mild-mannered Laura's in trouble for insulting one of the mums, Christmas sceptic Julie is knocking back the bargain basement gin, and 'Santa' Gerald is suffering with IBS. And there really is a lot of waiting involved.

As promised, Chris Dance's hilarious script delivers sackfuls of laughs, as well as some Christmas truths that are all too familiar.  Laura (Hazel Earle) likes to revise before Trivial Pursuit so she can beat her brother, Gerald (David Slack) dreads his grandchildren treading cake into the carpet, and Julie (Emma Laidlaw) prefers curry for Christmas dinner – in fact, everyone's agreed that turkey can be a bit dry.

Great performances from the cast are accompanied by cameos from composer Mike Seal as Clive, whose cheerful guitar-strumming gets right up the grotto workers' noses.  There's a wonderful moment when they all seem unusually pleased to see him, until we realise that we've briefly delved into Clive's imagination.

Alongside the inappropriate use of whoopee cushions and encouraging Santa to play 'spin the bottle', a truly touching measure of festive spirit is thrown in as the girls tell Santa what they really want for Christmas. Then with Clive leading the audience in another rousing chorus of "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday", there's no doubt that this Grotto is well worth a visit for a dose of seasonal merriment.

- Harriet Chandler


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