On my frosty quayside walk to The Lowry in Salford, lit by the glistening streetlamps and Media City’s coloured lights, my Christmas wish was to immerse myself in the season’s spirit. But I didn’t expect to feel more Christmassy wandering along to Mariah Carey than watching the world premiere of Claus the Musical.
Claus the Musical is based on The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story begins when baby Claus is found in the forest of Burzee and is adopted by a generous nymph called Necile. After growing up alongside mystical creatures, Claus becomes desperate to meet other humans. So he embarks on a journey to spread happiness and discovers that he is a talented toymaker.
The plot wasn’t quite what I anticipated – I’d hoped to see more of the Santa Claus we all know and love, travelling around the world and squeezing down a chimney. But that storyline made only a brief appearance in one song.
Nevertheless, I was impressed by the show’s atmosphere. As soon as I arrived, I was transported to the magical forest of Burzee. The sound of buzzing insects echoed around the Quays Theatre while the cast interacted with the crowd and played with handmade items. It was lovely to witness two actors engaging with an excited child, smiling as she catapulted their elastic ribbon into the air.
The set allowed the cast to move around freely. Thanks to the trees and ladders, they were never constrained by the stage’s size. There was also a pole that the villain, King Awgwa, played by Jazz Evans, slithered down before causing trouble. However, as the set remained the same throughout and the only reference to snow was a few white bedsheets, it failed to feel Christmassy.
At times, I wasn’t sure about the staging choices. Inbetween talking us through the story, the narrator Alwyne Taylor stood at the side of the stage, bopping along to the cast’s songs. Even though this encouraged the audience to enjoy the music, Taylor sometimes looked like a teacher guiding children through a school play.
But I couldn’t help but smile when a handmade cat entered Claus’s home. Simple in design yet clever in execution, it was made out of a folded cloth sheet with jagged edges to represent its feet. I loved how it pranced to the beat of the jingly music.
Although the songs weren’t particularly memorable, they were performed skilfully with Claus and Necile leading most of the numbers. Their sweet voices merged to create beautiful harmonies, often elevated by the company’s elegantly echoed backing vocals.
In the programme, director Kate Golledge explains: “Claus himself would like the audience to take away the idea of kindness and generosity being more important than presents”. Despite inspiring the audience, I’m not this was achieved as the play put a strong emphasis on receiving gifts. In fact, the behaviour of the kids in the musical seemed to depend on whether or not they were getting presents.
After the curtain came down, people left The Lowry praising the show. This warmed my heart on the chilly walk home, but I was still longing for that magical Christmas spirit.
By Caitlin Hyem
Claus the Musical is at The Lowry, Salford until January 8, 2023. For more information and tickets, click here.