Saturday, January 28

Christmas Dinner – Edinburgh Lyceum Theatre

They say a child first encounters theatre at Christmas. This year, the jewel in Edinburgh Theatre’s crown, The Lyceum lends its vast cavernous stage and stunning auditorium to Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, one of Scotland’s and possibly the UK’s best theatre company for Children. Armed with stories galore and a never-ending costume box they set to work to entice another hoard of children into the theatre. Writer Robert Alan Evans has dished up an eccentric celebration of why theatre is so important. In fact, it should come with a content warning: this production may make your child fall in love with theatre.

The premise is … simple? Lesley (Elicia Daly), a tired and harangued stagehand has had a terrible past two years. Who hasn’t? Grief stricken, she wants nothing more of her Christmas day than to fritter it away with a meat feast pizza, tub of heroes and no family in sight. That is until, on Christmas Eve, the creaking and downtrodden theatre, bereft of stories for two years evokes the spirits of the theatre to come tell some stories. Thus, their Christmas Eve extravaganza Christmas Dinner is born. Cue the dancing carrots, the jiving sprouts and a questionable looking tap-dancing nut roast. This festive bonanza is rudely gate-crashed by Lesley and all is realised that the spirit world and the human have crossed. The theatre craves stories, but only one of their stories will do. Then theatre and reality collide with magic realism in a Russian doll framed narrative to find out Lesley’s true feelings. Only a boring grown up like a theatre critic would ever attempt to try to make sense of this and give it a fancy name…

The well complimented ensemble brings this jump into fantasy land with delightful frenetic energy. Ronan McMahon delights not only as the bumbling spirit Billy who has been summoned by the theatre, but also in Billy’s debut as an actor, re-telling Lesley’s story playing the fictionalized little girl. It’s stunning acting and physical theatre. Sita Pierarccini is a delight as the elegant Bird, Richard Conlon gives a very humorous performance as thespian, Fruity, and Florence Odumoso shows a fantastic range as Madame Lady, balancing performances as the character portrays a singing roast duck and Grandma.

Just as much as the actors, it is set designer who has excelled, relishing every inch of this much-loved stage. It’s such a joy to see the work of the Lyceum workshops adorning the boards again, and the children are given a full tutorial on what some mere backdrops and lights can achieve. It’s simplistic yet absolutely beguiling.

For the most part, this unadulterated madness is absolutely sure to delight children. But while it thrives on energy, it packs a very meaningful punch. Lesley isn’t bitter because that’s who she is. Leslie’s struggling because she’s lost someone. It touches on all the right points that have hit us so hard over the past two years, and points towards the reasons grownups love theatre so much; not just because it entertains, but because it helps us come to terms with who we really are and what we feel deep down.

So, how fast is the traffic on the stage moving to get all of that crammed at seventy-five minutes? Director, Gil Robertson has them moving at approximately three thousand miles per hour. It’s best you buckle in tight, and bear in mind, if it seems impossible, it most definitely is- it’s for children after all.

This production runs until 2nd January 2022

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 8th December 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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