Theatre Review: THE SIEGE OF CHRISTMAS – Contact Theatre, Manchester

THE SIEGE OF CHRISTMAS at Contact Theatre. Photo Credit: Joel Chester-Fildes.

Christmas is once again under threat as a festive thief returns to steal the Spirit of Christmas in THE SIEGE OF CHRISTMAS

The Christmas season once again under threat as a festive thief returns to steal the Spirit of Christmas at Contact Theatre in THE SIEGE OF CHRISTMAS.

Devised by the Contact Young Company and Leeds-based Slung Low, THE SIEGE OF CHRISTMAS is an immersive piece of theatre designed to appeal to families and their little ones. Described as a “theatrical adventure”, this hour-long promenade piece invites the audience to join Santa’s secret agent ‘Nutcracker’ on a special mission to find and release the spirit of Christmas.

Delivered in promenade style, the action starts at the theatre’s main entrance as an angry mob of Mince Pies throw the audience out of the building and barricade the door. The spirit of Christmas (the essence that makes everyone merry and puts us all in a good mood during the festive period) has been stolen and locked away in a secret location somewhere inside the Contact Theatre building.

Armed with individual sets of headphones, which provide the soundtrack to the performance including the voices of the characters, the audience is guided through the building’s many spaces, bumping into re-imagined Christmas characters along the way including some demoralised Elves, a depressed giant Christmas cracker, a melting snow globe and a roll of rapping wrapping paper. As the audience travel from area to area, there are some short activities for the children to become involved in the story, as well as a healthy slice of fun and Christmas cheer to keep the adults entertained.

Under the direction of Slung Low’s Alan Lane, the Contact Young Company make for an energetic and engaging ensemble, with Joshua Wilkinson as Front of House Manager, Dan and Grainne Flynn as para-military agent Nutcracker, particularly standing out for their engagement with the youngsters.

THE SIEGE OF CHRISTMAS at Contact Theatre. Photo Credit: Joel Chester-Fildes.

The team also make good use of the building, transforming backstage areas into a winter wonderland and even delivering a dusting of snow outside the main entrance, despite the rainy Mancunian weather.

Yet, while THE SIEGE OF CHRISTMAS entertains for the most part, a couple of elements don’t quite work as well as expected. From the ‘Nutcracker Freeze’ which renders the audience invisible in times of extreme danger, to the rhyming elves who deliver the story in riddles, there are lots of distractions along the way, which when put together, dilute the story and hinder the younger children’s understanding.

The final reveal also feels rushed and a bit of an anti-climax. After chasing a band of fairies through Contact’s tunnels and stairways, and a rather magical Christmas light switch on when the melting snow globe is saved, when the Spirit of Christmas was finally released it falls a little flat and doesn’t quite give as satisfactory a payoff as it should.

That said, there is plenty to like about this light-hearted piece of theatre and there is plenty of fun for all the family. The producers should also be congratulated on their use of audience movement, particularly considering the size of the Contact building, which no doubt, required a lot of planning in order to make the cogs run smoothly.

3.5 out of 5 stars

THE SIEGE OF CHRISTMAS at Contact Theatre runs until 20 December 2017.