Crumble’s Search For Christmas at West Yorkshire Playhouse
It’s easy to bypass children’s theatre. After all, the whole family can enjoy a musical or a pantomime, but a glance at the cartoony poster for Crumble’s Search for Christmas will make most childless adults think “Glad I don’t have little ones dragging me to see this. Right, off to the panto…” It’s a shame, because there’s so much more wit, imagination and spectacle in a show like Crumble’s Search than your average pantomime. There’s even the sense that the adults are enjoying the show more than the children.
This 60-minute play follows Crumble, a bear preparing to hibernate for winter who has always slept through Christmas and fears the very idea of winter. When Crumble discovers a festive card, she goes searching for the fabled ‘Christmas’ and meets an array of wintry beasts, including a squirrel, a reindeer, an owl and even Winter herself, learning the true meaning of Christmas on her journey.
This simple story is beautifully told by the excellent playwright Robert Alan Evans. His last Christmas production, the magical The Night Before Christmas, was equally innocent and cosy-feeling, like drinking a mug of warm honey and lemon. It’s hard not to grin like a kid as the set unfurls into a tumbledown bear’s sleeping den or a fairy-light-illuminated forest.
Much of the joy here is the playful characters, from a bear with a teabag on a string to a squirrel with a sweeping-brush tail, all performed by the three female actors. Lucy Bairstow is the standout, her Yorkshire drawl making Not-Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer a comical highlight, and Bairstow’s brilliant comic timing – her portentous Mother Winter always sports a solemn lip pout – will go way over the little ones’ heads.
And this may be a bit of a problem. The show is aimed at children 2-6, but there’s not quite enough slapstick comedy to truly engage the younger audience members. The 6-10 year olds were eagerly watching, but ultimately it was the adults who chuckled the loudest. It’s more a marketing problem, finding an audience for such a wide-eyed, gleeful play, but it’s no detriment to the quality of the production. Perhaps not for the toddlers, but drag your little ones along – they’ll sit through it and you’ll leave with a massive grin on your face.