Shhh... A Christmas Story

Susan Mulholland, with music by Kate Doherty
Northern Stage, Newcastle
(2011)

Boo and the Bookworm (photo credit - Topher McGrillis)

For me the theatrical highlight of Christmas in the North East for some years has been not one of the pantos large or small, good though they may be, but Northern Stage’s show for the under-6s, and this year the team of writer Susan Mulholland, director Mark Calvert and designer Andrew Stephenson has done it again.

Mulholland’s stories are perfectly pitched for this age group but also, like the best pantos, have enough wit to amuse the adults while Calvert’s direction gives the show the pace and brightness that it needs to hold the youngsters’ attention for 70 minutes.

It obviously works for, at the performance I saw, the children sat with their parents on or just in front of the banks of (regrettably not terribly comfortable!) benches but, as the show progressed, gradually made their way forward until almost on the stage—with some doing their best to get on it. One father spent the second half of the show rushing forward to pull his son off the stage!

Shhh… is set in a library on Christmas Eve. Boo’s father, a librarian, has left his daughter’s Christmas present at work so they have to go back to get it, but he can’t remember where he left it so they have to hunt for it and discover that someone has been destroying books. Two security men find them and haul father away, accusing him of the destruction, but Boo discovers that the real culprit is a bookworm who feeds on books. She must stop him so she follows him and they burrow through many different kinds of books. Of course she wins and she and her father can go home to have a happy Christmas.

In the course of the show we meet three carol singers, a burglar, a French detective and two penguins and throw snowballs at the Bookworm, create an avalanche, travel on a train, become aeroplanes when Boo and the Bookwork take to the skies, and, of course, join in the singing. We even get to shout, “He’s behind you!”

The cast of six are brimful of energy. Ruth Johnson plays Boo and Georgina Hall, Carl Kennedy, Abigail Moffatt and David Thomas Walton play a whole range of other characters, all very convincingly, Kennedy in particular giving us a nicely nasty Bookworm.

It’s all great fun and the audience—me included—loved it. Another triumph for the creative team!

“Shhh… A Christmas Story” runs until 14th January

Reviewer: Peter Lathan