It’s Christmas Eve and Carole isn’t feeling the Yuletide spirit. In fact, all she wants to do is slump in front of the TV with a large glass of wine and watch Bake Off…on her own. But Santa has other ideas.
Strange things happen at Christmas time and, if you’re a sucker like me for a bit of festive fantasy, then you will fall head over heels in love with Another Night Before Christmas, the whimsical and thoroughly charming musical, which opened this week at the bijou Bridge House Theatre in South East London.
It’s success is less to do with Sean Grennan and Leah Okimoto’s faintly familiar story (think Bridget Jones without the big knickers) and more to do with the charismatic and heartwarming performances of its stars, Olivier Award winning actor George Maguire and West End singing star Rachael Wooding.
It is a hell of a coup to get the pair for this delightful two-hander and they make it fly. I defy even the glummest Scrooge to walk away from the show without experiencing a warm fuzzy glow inside.
This production captures everything we know and love about schmaltzy Xmas viewing. Okay, sugar is dripping off every line, but you’ll be won over by this captivating modern fairy-tale.
Maguire’s beguiling scruff enchants from the opening when he’s found dirty, hungry and rank, loitering outside Carole’s flat. She arrives home from the office Christmas party, replete with doggy bag full of leftover grub, and charitably offers it to the young tramp hovering on her doorstep.
It’s a moment of kindness that Rachael Wooding’s cynical social worker, Carole, knew she would regret. There’s a party going on down stairs and she swears to herself. “I can’t wait for this Christmas crap to be over” she says in her finest bah humbug voice.
She battles through her defiant door security system, which refuses to acknowledge her real name, pours a glass of plonk and sits down to spend the rest of Christmas watching TV, alone, and pigging out.
Her mother phones and nags her about being on her own at Christmas but she doesn’t listen. She’s heard it all before.
Then, horrors, the TV goes blank. It can’t break down. Not on Christmas Eve. The thought of the whole festive season without the gogglebox sends her into a blind panic.
Suddenly she is surprised by the smelly vagrant – in her flat. Is he a burglar? And if so why is he here? And how does he know so much about her?
Her attempts to get him to leave are thwarted when her recalcitrant security system goes into lockdown and the pair face spending Christmas together. What’s worse, he is insisting that he’s Santa – or possibly Clement Moore (who died in 1863 but not before allegedly writing the famous poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas) – or just a delusional lunatic.
“Look, I don’t take things,” he says. “I bring things.”
“You’re not Santa!”
“I am! Would it help to sit on my lap?”
She looks appalled – but is slowly warming to her funny, madcap guest.
“I’m Santa Claus,” he affirms.
“And I’m Peppa Pig!” replies Carole.
The dialogue bristles with good humour and intentions as the pair struggle with the peculiarity of their situation. There’s a running gag, which is a hoot, as Carole tries to convince the police to come and take away her uninvited guest. The gobby alarm, voiced by the theatre’s co-producer Rachel Tucker, also makes you smile.
Can the mysterious visitor convince Carole to make changes to her life? Will he help her find happiness and love – and will an ancient heartache ever be healed? Whatever, this lighthearted, endearing, comedy, will enchant.
The musical numbers are cheesy, cheerful and merry. Maguire’s belting two solos, Believe In Me and Santa Claus Is Goin’ To Town, lift the lid off the small theatre while I loved Carole’s heartfelt I Want My Life Back!
Both Maguire and Wooding prove to be gifted comic actors, handling Guy Rettalack’s pacy direction with ease, and effortlessly charming the audience with their winning personalities.
Sentimental, hilarious, life affirming and gloriously festive. I can’t think of anything better way to start the Yuletide season.
Another Night Before Christmas runs at the Bridge House Theatre until December 23.
- Another Night Before Christmas
Cheesy & cheerful. Another Night Before Christmas is a Yuletide gift of a show with two stellar turns from stars, George Maguire and Rachael Wooding.