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Review: Shhh... A Christmas Story, Northern Stage

ABOUT half way through the show, following an avalanche and a snowball fight, my daughter and her cousin can no longer contain their excitement.

Ruth Johnson and Abigail Moffatt in Shhh...A Christmas Story. Photo by Topher McGrillis

ABOUT half way through the show, following an avalanche and a snowball fight, my daughter and her cousin can no longer contain their excitement.

They clamber down the steps and join the kids thronged along the side of the stage for a close-up view of the rest of the action.

And the fact that four and five-year-olds want to be in the equivalent of the mosh-pit at a rock gig is testament to how captivating Shhh is.

It’s the latest under-sixes production from an established team at Northern Stage which includes writer Susan Mulholland, director Mark Calvert and designer Andrew Stephenson.

If anything they have honed their talents since last year’s space adventure, The Little Boy Who Lost the Morning.

Parents expect to be entertained just as much as their children and Susan has produced an erudite roller-coaster of a story with laughs for kids and adults.

There’s a little bit of Charlie (and the Chocolate Factory) about Boo, a loveable, imaginative and feisty little girl. And a tiny flavour of George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life) about her dad, a librarian, who on Christmas Eve is rather down on his luck.

He has forgotten Boo’s only present (a book) and the two must set foot in the mysterious closed-up library to recover it. Cue a marvellous adventure for Boo, who must capture the greedy Bookworm (Carl Kennedy) by following him into the magical world of books.

As he gorges his way through a series of books, Boo follows him, entering different stories as she speeds through on planes, trains and well ... a bicycle.

The story is pitched perfectly with plenty of silliness and slapstick but also the odd literary joke from the brilliantly villainous Bookworm. So when my daughter wasn’t jumping up and down with glee at Boo’s antics, I was laughing out loud at some of the gags.

Musical director Katie Doherty’s enchanting songs are beautifully crafted and performed, and you never know, next year Northern Stage might stretch to live accompaniment.

And while the set looks lo-fi it is probably incredibly structurally complicated as book pages cleverly turn to reveal different backdrops.

Ruth Johnson is an engaging heroine, David Thomas Walton a heart- warming dad and Georgina Hall and Abigail Moffatt provide strong support.

The Bookworm verges on the scene-stealer but this is clearly a winning collaboration of folk who really know how to entertain young children. And you don’t really have to shh... go on spread the word.


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