What do you remember about your childhood Christmases? Food? Family? Or is it perhaps the toy that you never got, a ‘regret’ that stayed with you for years to come? Directed by Gerald Armin, A Christmas Story looks at the festive season through the eyes of Ralphie – a nine-year-old boy in Hohman, Indiana. But as well as the show having a child’s perspective, we have Ralphie’s point of view as an adult which frames the show.
Set in 1940 – at a time when westerns were the one of most popular genres in movies – the apple of Ralphie’s eye is the Red Ryder BB air rifle. Unfortunately, everyone (including his mother, teacher and a department store ‘Santa’) thinks it’s too dangerous for Ralphie and that he would probably shoot himself in the eye. If his mother (Lucyelle Cliffe) doesn’t think him as ‘grown up’, her outlook can be traced to her ‘babying’ his younger brother Randy, who still has to be coaxed to eat his meals.
His father has a very different temperament – often ‘flying off the handle’ with his ‘colourful’ language (conveyed with Ned Landers-esque mutterings) and has a penchant for puzzles. Deep down, he yearns to be known as an intelligent person and be respected by his neighbours. With all this going on, will anyone pick up on Ralphie’ subtle hints about his choice of present?
A Christmas Story is ambitious in its scope, utilising seven child actors who also sing throughout the show. They alternate with other children throughout the run, but on the evening I attended, Rufas Kapa impressed in the star role, showing an aptitude for singing and acting beyond his years. As for Ralphie’s teacher, Miss Shields, Jenny Gaynor demonstrate a flair for dancing that evokes Angela Rippon’s famous dance routine on The Morcambe & Wise Show.
As a family show, A Christmas Story caters for young and old with amusing gags and subtle humour. For children, there’s the shenanigans at school with the pupils (“I triple dog dare you to…”) while for the adults, the wry observations of ‘Santa’, Miss Shields and Ralphie’s adult self provide nostalgia and a ‘knowingness’ to the proceedings.
© Michael Davis 2018
A Christmas Story runs at Waterloo East Theatre until 22nd December.
Book by Joseph Robinette. Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
CAST: Gary Freer (Jean Shepherd), Mother (Lucyelle Cliffe), Old Man (Simon Willmont), Miss Shields (Jenny Gaynor), Ralphie (Rufus Kampa/FelixHepburn), Randy (Harry Irving/Ethan Manwaring), Schwartz (Flynn Timberlake/Ethan Quinn), Flick (Evan Huntley-Robertson/Daniel Osei) Esther Jane (Sofia-Elena Tait/Alice Boney), Mary Beth (Chloe Weir/Amelia Ioannou), Scut Farkus (Bradley Riches), Grover Dill (Alfie Turnbull/Edward Flynn Haddon), Mrs Schwartz/Dance Captain (Katy Stephens).