Eileen Caiger Gray reviews The Great Christmas Dig at Cast in Doncaster (Dec 17th 2017)
As an alternative to a full-blown panto this year, Handmade Theatre is offering their very own package of creative Christmas joy, one ideal for smaller, more intimate venues.
Children up to seven and their motley adults are given a warm, friendly, personal welcome as, guided by the rider of a straw-stuffed patchwork camel, they enter the magical atmosphere of ‘a Bedouin tent’. Subdued lighting and haunting flute strains greet them as they sit informally beneath overhanging swathes of orange drapes, on scattered rugs and mats or on simple wooden benches. And now they’re in Egypt on an archaeological dig, alongside distracted, Trilby-hatted Leonard and straight-talking, slightly French-toned Gertrude. It’s December, and Leonard’s very much missing all the fun of a Christmas season back home. Gertrude, though, isn’t bothered in the slightest.
Enter now a wonderfully engaging, charismatic Christmas Spirit (bringing to mind a dark-clad Morrisman). Invisible to the pair of archaeologists, she enlists the help of every person present in convincing Gertrude that there are heaps of thrilling things to do at Christmas. Along the way, all manner of historical snippets are unearthed that point to the possible origins of various of our Christmas traditions, giving ample opportunity for the donning of horned Viking helmets and the linking of Thor and Odin with Yule logs and Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer (cue another song.)
In a show that’s massively interactive from start to hour-later finish, the three actors keep all the ingredients in their festive pot bubbling along nicely – and what a lot they’ve got! Chants, songs, wassails and action dances, cracker jokes and puns, a treasure hunt with riddles, rhymes, questions and hidden clues, quiet moments for making a special wish as each holds a tiny candle, and a tent-load of delightful hands-on tasks for volunteers one and all – and all and all. Throw in a Mallard train, battered tenor horn, mouth organ, flute, guitar, tenor recorder, a treasure map, a Christmas tree in need of decoration, a pinch of silliness, an ability to react appropriately to whatever any child might come up with (even twins!) plus other sundries, and there you have it – a really happy package that puts smiles on faces of all ages. Happy Christmas!
The show runs until the end of December.