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Warwick Arts Centre, review: Father Christmas

Father Christmas, Warwick Arts Centre, until December 29.

He was invented by Coca Cola. He started out as the Norse god Thor.

The list of urban myths about Father Christmas is endless. My favourite is the Japanese chain store owner, who in the days before Christmas was celebrated in Japan, got wind of a huge Western commercial festival in December and wanted a slice of the pie. So he sent his perplexed deputy over to Britain to report back, and the end result was a huge Christmas display in his shopfront of Santa suspended on a cross.

Among these stereotypes, one of the most enduring is the potty-mouthed crosspatch Father Christmas, as immortalised in the Raymond Briggs picture book of 1973.

More than 10 years later this festive favourite was still reigning supreme, to which I, as a fully paid up member of the school Puffin Book Club, can testify.

I remember the unbearable excitement when my mum gave in and allowed me to order my own copy, only matched by the jubilation when the package finally arrived.

So it was against this cultural backdrop that I and my seven year old daughter Ramona visited Warwick Arts Centre’s production of Father Christmas, brought to life by theatre company Pins and Needles and the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith.

As you can appreciate, there was a lot riding on this show – could it possibly live up to the version which lives in my own childhood memory? I am delighted to say yes, yes, YES. Mike Aherne, as Father Christmas, might have stepped from the pages of my dog-eared paperback, still brought out faithfully with the Christmas tree every year. From the minute he stepped onto the stage, he delighted yet another generation of Briggs fans with his balance of bristly curmudgeon and twinkly-eyed softie.

The show opens in his home in the North Pole, which bears a striking resemblance to 1930s terraced houses inhabited by 80s granddads everywhere, right down to the icy outside toilet on which Santa parks his generous rear. His pet dog and cat were animated beautifully, the wooden framework perfectly complementing the nostalgia of the set. I was slightly disappointed when Aherne did not actually turn the air blue with expletives (signified by the intriguing X^&%$£ symbols in the book) but was more than mollified when he proved true to form by being far more willing to utter the phrase ‘Blooming Christmas’ than ‘Ho ho ho’.

Ramona was delighted by the special effects, which included a transparent chimney down which Santa’s substantial derriere made its second appearance; and reindeer which ‘flew’ effortlessly over roofs with the help of magical clouds of dry ice.

On returning home after his long shift, we strayed dangerously into John Lewis Christmas advert territory, as Aherne cooked himself a solitary Christmas dinner and opened his presents alone.

But Aherne’s Christmas cheer prevented the show descending into pathos, right up until the moment he broke the fourth wall to wish the audience ‘a merry bloomin’ Christmas’. This festive show is quite simply a Christmas cracker.

Tickets from £15, available from the Box Office on 024 76150930.

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