I’m definitely not a 21st century incarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge (I’ve checked this with my kids) but I do get more than a bit anxious as November clicks into December and numerous Christmas Markets have been and gone and mince pies are BOGOFF in the shops. So it was with some trepidation that I joined a line of 350 reception and year one little people at the exquisitely revamped Leeds Playhouse in order to well and truly embrace this festive period.

The Night Before Christmas is a much-loved tale dealing with loss, communication, understanding, empathy, relationships and ultimately ‘finding home’ (yes, I know that means something different to each of us). However, an actual Elf climbing down a 30 foot ladder from Santa’s sleigh to the stage is possibly the only thing that hundreds of Yorkshire children will be thinking about this evening as they drift off to sleep.

Enter Elf 30046 played by the amazing Lladel Bryant, who has obviously spent an extended period on the staff at the North Pole in preparation for this part. While his stage presence is every inch that of an actor at the top of his game, I was still sorely tempted to pass him my Christmas list as he searched for Santa among a throng of Key Stage 1 kids.

Elf’s opposite number is the utterly wonderful Carol (Alexandra James). Like lots of us, she is all about rejecting Christmas. She believes her ‘star’ has gone, so celebration is definitely not on the agenda. James is something special. This accomplished young actress could well be your Christmas Angel once you’ve seen her in action at the Playhouse, although clambering on a roof instead of perched on a tree is how you’ll find her this December in West Yorkshire. James is a deaf actor who dovetails perfectly with Leeds Playhouse’s vision for participation and inclusion. While I’m sure you’re rightly extremely proud of your local theatre and the work it does regarding widening participation, the folks at Quarry Hill deserve a medal. 

Bryant and James are outstanding. The incredibly clever use of sign language throughout their respective performances is infectious. I now know how to sign Reindeer, Santa and Elf. Both actors danced, climbed and even skated into the hearts of an excitable audience. But the stand-out moment is when the snow starts to fall on stage. The collective gasp, followed by hundreds of children chorusing that “it’s snowing”, is brilliant. Director Amy Leach and her team deserve rich applause.

I don’t want to end with spoilers, suffice to say that it’s impossible to leave the Playhouse with anything other than a warm glow. No matter your age, I’d heartily recommend catching this dynamic festive production.

By Colin Petch

Images by Anthony Robling

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The Night Before Christmas is on until December 28, 2019 (except for Christmas Day). For more information, click here