I’m definitely not a 21st century incarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge (I’ve checked this with my kids), but I do get more than a bit anxious as November clicks into December and already many Christmas Markets have been and gone and mince pies are BOGOFF in the shops. So it was with some trepidation that I joined a line of almost 350 Reception and Year-One little people at the exquisitely revamped Leeds Playhouse today, to well-and-truly embrace this festive period.
The Night Before Christmas is a much-loved tale dealing with loss, communication, understanding, empathy, relationships and ultimately ‘finding home’ (Yes – I know that means something different to each of us). However, an actual Elf climbing down a 30’ ladder from Santa’s sleigh to the stage, is possibly the only thing that hundreds of Yorkshire children will be thinking about tonight as they drift off to sleep.
Enter Elf 30046, played by the amazing Lladel Bryant – who has obviously spent an extended period on the staff at the North Pole in preparation for this part. While his stage presence was every inch that of an actor at the top of their game, I was still sorely tempted to pass him my Christmas list as he searched for Santa amongst a throng of KS1 kids.
Elf’s opposite number was the utterly gorgeous Carol, (Alexandra James). Like lots of us, she was all about rejecting Christmas. She believed her ‘star’ had gone – so celebration was definitely not on the agenda. Neighbour Roger (also played by Lladel) reached out, but like the Waitresses song, it was looking like a Merry Christmas no-go.
Alexandra James is something incredibly special. Staying with the Yuletide metaphor’s – this accomplished young actor could well be your Christmas Angel once you’ve seen her in action at the Playhouse, although clambering on a roof, instead of perched on a tree is how you’ll find her this December in West Yorkshire.
Ms James is a deaf actor who dovetails perfectly with Leeds Playhouse’s vision for participation and inclusion. I’m certain you’re rightly very proud of your local theatre and the work they do around widening participation, but goodness me – The folks at Quarry Hill need a medal. One bigger than a John Lewis Frying Pan.
Lladel and Alexandra were outstanding. The incredibly clever use of sign language throughout their performance was infectious. I now know how to sign Reindeer, Santa and Elf, as a result of the amazing afternoon in the Courtyard Theatre. Both actors danced, climbed and even skated into the hearts of a very excitable audience. The Torvill and Dean sequence was very funny and one for the older members of the crowd.
The stand-out moment of the performance could quite possibly be when the snow starts to fall on stage. The collective gasp – followed by hundreds of children together saying “It’s snowing” is something very special. Director Amy Leach and her team deserve rich applause.
In the end, Carol finds her Christmas spirit, Elf 30046 is reunited with Santa and Roger makes a new friend, so it’s impossible to leave the Playhouse with anything other than a warm glow this December. No matter what your age, I’d heartily recommend catching this dynamic festive production. 5 Stars.
The Night Before Christmas runs 4th – 28th December (except Christmas Day).