The Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith is a big space to fill. Last week it took the collective might of Louis Walsh, a group of school children and Debbie Isitt's Nativity! to bring the festive cheer to the theatre and, this time around, the task falls to Tom Fletcher's new musical The Christmasaurus, based on his bestselling children's book.
As those who have read it will know, the story isn't an old fossil by any stretch of the imagination. A dinosaur-obsessed young boy, William Trundle, wants one thing for Christmas – for his dad to be a little bit less lonely. At the same time at the North Pole, Santa meets a newly hatched and intensely amicable reptilian creature, who he christens the Christmasaurus (who looks a bit like a contemporary reimagining of Barney the dinosaur). Inevitably William and the Christmasaurus's paths collide in what turns into a veritable bonanza of yuletide joy.
Fletcher's adaptation, aided by Miranda Larson, bursts off the page and sits neatly in the cavernous space of the Apollo. Though the meta-theatrical in-jokes may go over some youngsters' heads, the visuals alone are enough to keep even the most fidgety pre-teen fixed in their seat. Major kudos must go to lighting designer Howard Hudson and video and projection designer Duncan McLean, with moments like a NASDAQ-inspired sequence about how Santa calculates whether or not someone is 'naughty' or 'nice' being fantastically innovative.
But the production wouldn't function without Fletcher's music and lyrics, in what turns out to be a certified stocking-filler of a score. The McFly frontman flaunts his composing talents with some nice and cheery yuletide tunes, as well as some more anarchic and jokey numbers – Giovanna Fletcher’s "Christmas Makes Me Sick" being a particular highlight.
The cast all give larger-than-life turns, especially Carrie Hope Fletcher with some show-stopping solos as evil bully Brenda Payne (her time as the equally devious Wednesday Addams in Addams Family clearly leaving a lasting impact), while Matt Willis' perverse hunter (he’s "fangirl-y for taxidermy") was a quirky and captivating villain. Puppeteers Mikey Brett and Luisa Guerreiro also deserve praise for bringing the titular dinosaur to life.
There is enough to satisfy tag-along parents too – Harry Judd's dance moves, honed by his time on Strictly, make for enchanting moments, while throwaway references to Love Actually are met with approving chuckles. It all amounts to a solid Christmas outing from Fletcher, and a perfectly pitched family-friendly addition to the theatrical roster this December.
The Christmasaurus runs at the Eventim Apollo Hammersmith from 21 to 28 December.