Christmas is a great time for tradition. In Sweden, the midwinter festival has been a big deal for a very, very long time, but they do things differently there.

This production of Moominland Midwinter at Sale Waterside, courtesy of Rossendale’s Horse + Bamboo and the egg theatre in Bath, is certainly a festive presentation, but it’s no panto. That’s not to say it isn’t fun. Quite the opposite. It’s a real delight which children will relish. But on the quiet it’s also got a depth to it which goes deeper than the usual tinsel trappings and gaudy excess. Fittingly, it’s very Scandinavian.

MoominlandAnyone who has grown up exposed to Tove Jansson‘s Moomins, whether via the original books or the various screen adaptations, will know that there’s a gently melancholy streak to them which makes them hard to forget. Sure enough, this show opens with our fusspot hero Moomintroll waking up to a snow-bedecked world and wandering about in it feeling very lonely. Before too long, though, he starts to meet others, among them a ditsy squirrel, dour Little-My and philosophical sort Too Ticky.

The result is a lively adventure of discovery and wonder, with lots of uproarious antics. But there are also lots of quiet, reflective moments about the circle of life, with nature portrayed as a force that can be harsh and scary as well as beautiful and magical. Yet it’s all done so deftly, and with such a lightness of touch, that children will have no trouble absorbing it. The result as a whole is truly impressive, and it definitely stays faithful to the spirit of Jansson’s unique original vision.

It’s a small-scale puppet production with visible puppeteers, but they’re dressed in suitably Scandi black outfits and woolly hats so their presence quickly becomes invisible once the story gets going. There’s plenty of ingenuity in the staging, with a very tight, skilful company creating an entire world between them. In particular, Mark Whitaker lights up proceedings with an array of daffy characters, not least the over-enthusiastic Hemulen and an unleashed troll. There are comic set-pieces a-plenty, and larks abound. Lots of fun is had with different perspectives of scale. There’s a very nicely judged use of evocative music throughout, too. Moominland

The pacing meanders a little in the second half, and tiny theatregoers might begin to wriggle before the end. But it wraps up perfectly, and besides, it’s a world you’ll enjoy being immersed in. All told, it’s something pretty special. Festive tweeness is not the order of the day here. Instead it’s a genuinely rounded, irresistible visit to a glorious winter wonderland.

By Andy Murray 

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MoominlandWhat: Moominland Midwinter

Where: Waterside Arts Centre, Sale

When: until January 2, 2015

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