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Crackers at Polka Theatre – review

Nicky Allpress' production runs until 15 January

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Amy Loughton, Phil Yarrow, Andy Umerah, Erika Poole and Sera Mustafa in Crackers: A Festive Family Farce
© Steve Gregson

Billed as "a festive family farce", this new show from veteran children's playwright Charles Way offers an entertaining alternative to panto that should satisfy a broad spectrum of ages.

Set in a house adjacent to a pet shop, it sees the Crackers family – squabbling siblings Joe and Maia along with mum Sue and great-grandma Cath – attempt to extricate themselves from financial straits by finding the diamonds hidden during the war by Cath's late husband George. Given the family business, there has to be an animal involved, and Napoleon the pet rat duly pops up around the place to provide occasional distraction and scare the living daylights out of Sue's would-be boyfriend Mike.

The outcome of the diamond hunt may be predictable but it's an enjoyable ride, with a sprinkling of music (including a Mariah sing-along) to grease the wheels. Although the ‘farce' tag is a bit of a stretch, there is plenty of knockabout fun, with Phil Yarrow proving an effective stooge as the oft-fainting Mike and avaricious estate agent Mr Dribble.

Andy Umerah's amiable Joe also serves as a pseudo-compere, including a section at the opening of the second act where he reads out a succession of groan-worthy cracker jokes. Erika Poole, meanwhile, has enormous fun with the 100-year-old Cath, who recalls seeing Santa in the bathroom and merrily snogs the face off Mr Dribble. Sera Mustafa captures the teenage angst of Maia, sniping at her brother about his unwashed football jersey, and Amy Loughton is a lovable Sue, who has a tendency to make animal noises when stressed.

Director Nicky Allpress slickly marshalls the action, and there are some lovely details in Liz Cooke's design, including the many nooks and crannies from which Napoleon pops up to entertain the kids pre-show. A hidden fireplace and cellar add to the fun, and it all exudes the requisite air of lovably ramshackle. The beady-eyed will also spot a rainbow armband on Yarrow's football outfit – well played.

It's a time of year when families in the capital are spoiled for choice for festive entertainment, and Crackers certainly merits a spot in the schedule. It won't win any awards for innovation, and it's undeniably a little rough around the edges, but it has charm by the bucketload. Both my nine and three-year-old enjoyed themselves, the former trying to work out where the diamonds were hidden, the latter guessing where Napoleon would appear next. All told, we had a cracking time.

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