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Review: CRACKERS, Polka Theatre

Review: CRACKERS, Polka Theatre

Festive family fun in Wimbledon for ages 5-12

4 stars

The Christmas season is in full swing at Polka Theatre, with two festive productions catering to young audiences and their families. Following last year's fantastically funny Cinderella: the AWESOME truth, Polka debuts another new Christmas show in the Main Theatre. Written by Charles Way and directed by Nicky Allpress, Crackers offers holiday hilarity for ages 5-12.

It's Christmas Eve and the Cracker family is preparing for the big day, but it's hard feeling festive when everything's going wrong. The family pet shop is going out of business, they'll soon be out of a home, and Joe's pet rat, Napoleon has got out of his cage. Meanwhile, Great Grandma Cath (Erika Poole) is coming over for tea but they're out of teabags, and Mum's out of money. If only Joe (Andy Umerah) can find the diamonds that Cath's first husband, George (Phil Yarrow) apparently hid in the house 80 years ago. Will Joe track down the treasure, can the Crackers catch Napoleon, and will Cath ever get her slice of Christmas cake?

Although it's not a pantomime (oh no, it's really not) Crackers provides the same sort of seasonal silliness. Even before the show begins, the auditorium is filled with the delighted squeals of children as they spot the rat puppet (designed by Michael Fowkes). Predictably, as the show goes on, this affords the opportunity to scream "it's behind you". There is also a comedy villain to boo, corny cracker jokes, and a good old singalong to Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You".

Things get dafter as the action unfolds, with Joe pulling apart the house in his attempt to find the jewels, egged on by Cath and reluctantly aided by his sister, Maia (Sera Mustafa). Liz Cooke's engaging set design provides some fun surprises, including plenty of places for Napoleon to pop up. Way's witty script offers something for everyone, whether or not they are fans of slapstick, but the well-executed physical comedy draws the greatest laughs.

The energetic cast know exactly how to engage a young audience and are clearly having fun doing so. Poole puts the "Great" into "Great Grandma" in her wickedly funny portrayal of Cath, while Umerah and Mustafa perfectly portray a pair of squabbling siblings. Amy Loughton amuses as pet-shop owner, Sue, who breaks out into animal noises when stressed, and Yarrow demonstrates versatility in an array of roles.

In between all the madness, there are some moving moments involving the development of a bond between Mum's boyfriend, Mike (Phil Yarrow) and Maia, who has been struggling to accept him as a replacement for her late father. Fittingly as the production plays during the World Cup, there is also a bit of a football theme, with both Mike and Joe dressed in football strips. In a particularly nice touch, Mike sports a rainbow armband on his kit. It may seem like a small detail but it speaks volumes about the inclusive and welcoming environment at Polka.

Running at around 1 hour and 25 minutes (including an interval) it's a good length for youngsters, giving them a taste of the full theatrical experience including the hallowed interval ice cream.

Overall, Crackers is a fun-filled family show which offers an excellent alternative to panto this Christmas. Another cracking production from Polka Theatre.

Crackers at Polka Theatre until 15 January

Photo Credit: Steve Gregson

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