SANTA’S TIMELY ANTIDOTE TO COMMERCIAL HYPE
The Santa Claus Show (2012)
by Tim Bray
songs by Christine White
at The Pumphouse, Takapuna, Auckland
From 3 Dec 2012 to 22 Dec 2012
Reviewed by Vanessa Byrnes, 9 Dec 2012
This show is fast becoming a Kiwi classic. Now in its eleventh season – which alone says something of its enduring appeal – The Santa Claus Show 2012 is a lively take on the real spirit of Christmas, delivered in a dynamic way. It feels as fresh as the first performance.
The familiar premise is one that kids will easily relate to: Kelly and Alana are best friends and decide to write to Santa Claus about what they most want for Christmas. But Kelly sends the longest list of things that Santa has ever seen, so Elfie the Elf intervenes. Something must be put right here; the real meaning of Christmas has gone astray in our money-fuelled lives. So Santa flies Kelly to the North Pole where she learns for herself the true meaning of Christmas.
The central protagonist is not always likeable, which rings of truth and kids will understand why. It's pitched at the right level to include both ‘little' and ‘big' humour.
A cast of nine drives things along well, helped all the while by Christine White's witty musical score. ‘All the things I need' is a clever song to get us on board.
Kayne Peters brings joyous glee to the Elf character and pushes things along nicely with his sense of fun, while Pipiajna Tui Jane is spot on as Kelly, the slightly spoilt child who has a lesson to learn. Jon Tamihere-Kemeys portrays Dad and Santa with fitting amounts of impatience and robust joy, respectively.
The supporting cast are all in there with gusto, including a couple of impish twin Elves (Jennifer and Daniel Lee) who – at Saturday's show – upstaged the action with their antics.
There are a variety of performance tricks to tell this story and these keep the drama alive. Mime, shadow puppetry, song, dance, popular culture (‘Gangnam Style' slips in) and a good dose of panto (“he's behind you!”) drive things along nicely. Like a story made up just for you, it's hard to know what will appear next.
This is the show's real appeal. Within a fairly predictable storyline – arguably important for kids to stay engaged – there is a highly inventive and equally vital way of exacting it. As one of my daughters said, “It was very entertaining and lots of unexpected things happened.”
John Parker's set provides a clever solution to transforming the Pumphouse stage from a suburban Auckland bedroom to the North Pole and many other places along the way. Michael Craven's fabulous lighting design brings a touch of spectacle to the drama. The production elements are uniformly well realised.
Tim Bray Productions are known for being entertaining and professionally focused at children and families. His shows carry a lot of care and respect for how kids engage with theatre, and I take my (Santa) hat off to him for overtly catering to this audience. This show is fitting for kids 8 years and under and it's crafted with this demographic firmly in mind.
Don't expect a religious message; there isn't one. Ultimately this is a good antidote to the commercial hype being thrust upon us all at in December. The message is simple: giving is better than receiving. It's highly recommended before the final-week mayhem of Christmas hits, if only to ease the stress of the season and remind the little ones what is most important at this time of year.
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