Review: Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas at the Lyric

Father-Christmas---Published-by-Puffin-Books-Copyright--®-Raymond-Briggs
Father-Christmas---Published-by-Puffin-Books-Copyright--®-Raymond-Briggs

There are few stage shows more festive than this take on the popular work by the British illustrator and writer, which will have little ones enthralled.

Father-Christmas---Published-by-Puffin-Books-Copyright--®-Raymond-Briggs
Father Christmas, published by Puffin Books. Copyright ® Raymond Briggs

British writer, cartoonist and illustrator Raymond Briggs will forever be associated with Christmas in the nation’s consciousness, thanks to the animated version of his touching picture book The Snowman; a wordless story told through illustrations in which a young boy goes on an adventure with the snowman that he builds, which is now a seasonal classic.

For avid fans of Briggs though, there’s another tale that for over 40 years has been read to children as they snuggle up in bed and await the big day – Father Christmas.

The eponymous character from this story is a slightly grumpy, curmudgeonly version of the Father Christmas who we all know and love. While this one is still immensely likeable, he’s not without fault: complaining incessantly about the “blooming snow’, and indulging in the odd alcoholic tipple.

The story follows him from the moment he wakes and realises it’s Christmas Eve and he has to go to work, right through to his travels around the world to deliver Christmas presents, and culminating on his very own Christmas Day.

Raymond-Briggs'-Father-Christmas---photo-by-Simon-Annand-(2)
Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas. Credit: Simon Annand

This retelling at the Lyric Hammersmith, adapted by Pins and Needles Productions and directed by Emma Earle, is truly magical and a sure-fire way of building excitement in youngsters (as if they need any encouragement) as well as your own festive spirit in the run up to Christmas.

The clever staging, use of puppetry (we love the cat, dog and reindeer), and a fantastic music and sound-effects corner, make this story as relevant today as it was when it was first written.

Talking of the young audience: watching a play surrounded by lots of children could be a recipe for a noisy disaster. However, from the moment the lights go down the children are transfixed, and aside from the odd shout of “he’s stuck in the chimney”, they remain relatively quiet, which says something about how mesmerising the show is.

Raymond-Briggs'-Father-Christmas-at-the-Lyric-Hammersmith-photo-by-Simon-Annand
Father Christmas and his sleigh. Credit: Simon Annand

The big moment of the show is undoubtedly when Father Christmas appears on his sleigh, which is cleverly engineered to give the effect of the reindeer flying (albeit with a pinch of imagination), attracting shrieks of delight from the excitable youngsters, (and one or two adults too).

The story of the Lyric Hammersmith is fascinating in itself: beginning life in 1895 as an opera house, it was originally built on another site a little further down the street, but when it fell on hard times and was threatened with closure, public outcry was such that it was dismantled brick by brick and moved to its current site on Lyric Square and was re-opened in 1979 by the Queen.

Father Christmas will run at the Lyric Hammersmith until 31 December and if you know any under sixes we strongly recommend you take them along.

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