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The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (Westcliff, Palace Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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So, you think you know everything there is to be known about Father Christmas (aka Santa Claus), do you? Think again. There’s a brand-new take on the season’s favourite gift-giver in the shape of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus which Debra James has adapted from the story, first published in 1902, by L Frank Baum – the creator of The Wizard of Oz no less.

It’s a very American backwoods tale in one way – think Paul Bunyan – but translates perfectly into an English accent to become a family musical show with a distinct seasonal flavouring. What’s more, Bruce James’ production has a catchy score by Andy Collyer and energetic choreography by Sallie Warrington. We begin deep in a forest, inhabited only by immortals – nymphs, fairies and little nut-brown sprites called knoooks, On yes, and there are also some malicious creatures called awgwas with a very boo-hissable king (Thomas Coombes).

Disrupting this balance comes a mortal child, an abandoned baby. He’s adopted by Necile (Kirstie Kober, who has a good singing voice and an engaging personality, the character a little like Iolanthe in the Savoy opera. But he grows up and must rejoin the human world. Which is where his adventures begin.

Ellis Kerkhoven plays Santa as a young man, carving and painting toys for the children of the Laughing Valley community, being kidnapped by King Awgwa, rescued through the good offices of master woodsman Ak (Sebastian Abineri) and becoming eventually the Santa Claus of modern tradition. It’s all attractively costumed with good effects and appropriate settings by Paul Lazell – the puppet cat was particularly appreciated by the young audience members on the opening night.

With a small cast of adult principals and a large one of local juvenile and intermediate dance school students, this could be a worthwhile addition to the repertoire of any community-based theatre company looking for something just that little bit different at this time of year.


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