Tucked away just around the corner from Crystal Palace Park is the Bridge House – a gastropub which handily has a theatre upstairs. For their Christmas season they are introducing the UK première of Another Night Before Christmas, a two-hander musical originally by Sean Grennan (book & lyrics) & Leah Okimoto (music).
Carole is a social worker with decreasing job satisfaction, no life of her own – and no interest in Christmas. On her way home on Christmas Eve she notices a homeless man on the street outside her building and offers him some leftover food from the office party. Unbeknownst to Carole, this isn’t the last she’ll see of this mysterious man…
This production is set firmly in modern-day Britain, complete with references to The Great British Bake Off and the EU referendum. The show does well to highlight the life-or-death decisions facing the growing number of people living on the streets, especially at this time of year with ever colder nights. It doesn’t moralise, instead it raises awareness – the plight of the homeless in the show itself, and the work of Bromley Homeless Shelter in the programme. Sadly many of us will pass someone in this situation every day, so this side of the story really rings true. Despite the sadder themes it brings to light, however, this is a Christmas show through & through.
Given that all commercial outlets seem to think Christmas begins as soon as the August bank holiday is out of the way, it’s understandable that cynicism about the festival is prevalent – and that is the beauty of this show. If you can’t get enough of Christmas you will love it immediately and if, like Carole, you struggle to get on with this particular holiday, you will identify acutely with her position but find yourself going on the same journey as she does in the show.
One of the beauties of this show being performed in a pub theatre (aside from the delicious mulled wine available downstairs) is the set. The majority of the show is set in Carole’s flat, so the intimacy of the auditorium gives a real sense of being invited into her home to watch events unfold.
There are some voiceover cameos, some of which act as a reminder of the world outside the flat that Carole’s trying to ignore, for example a voicemail from her mother. This is a nice touch, though the timing is a little out on that particular voicemail – Carole occasionally gives witty responses to her mother’s comments, but she doesn’t always have enough time to get them in before her mother continues talking. This is a minor thing, however.
Rachael Wooding brings a natural quality to her portrayal of Carole, providing a relatable figure for the audience to connect with. Her vocals are stunning and fill the theatre with ease. In the role of The Man is Olivier-winning George Maguire; he is full to the brim with a roguish charm and a cheeky sense of humour, with a voice that cannot be tamed. He has some incredible runs that really show off his range, especially in The Big Guy is in the House. Together, Wooding & Maguire are something of a dynamic duo with their hilarious sparring and excellent comic timing (Kill Der Bingle is a fine example) – there are plenty of touching moments, too, which seem to come just as easily. Christmas Moon is particularly poignant.
And let’s put it this way… If you weren’t a Christmas person before, you will be by the time George Maguire’s finished with you!
My verdict? A seasonal treat that’s full of heart, bringing Christmas to the south-east without having to lay it on with a snowplough – the festive spirit is infectious!
Another Night Before Christmas runs at the Bridge House Theatre until 23 December 2016. Tickets are available online and from the bar (in advance) or the box office (on the night).