The Magic of Christmas review – Clare Grogan steps in to help Santa find his way

Available online
Filmed at Pitlochry when a live show was prevented, Elizabeth Newman’s charming adventure channels star power to rescue festive spirit

Elizabeth Newman is the director who wouldn’t give up. Prevented by the pandemic from staging a Christmas show indoors, she opted instead for a promenade performance in the gardens adjacent to Pitlochry Festival theatre. Further prevented from staging any kind of live work, she adapted again. Now she has turned the set for The Magic of Christmas into a child-friendly art installation and committed the performance to film.

What we get on screen is a good-hearted 30-minute adventure in which two elves, played by Barbara Hockaday and Ali Watt, must retrieve the lost north star before Colin McCredie’s Santa takes to his sleigh and looks to the night sky to guide him. Clare Grogan as Mrs Claus takes them on an eccentric digression through a garden where she cultivates art from seed before offering them some good advice on how to retrieve the wandering star.

elves Barbara Hockaday and Ali Watt step through an advent calendar door.
Jollity … elves Barbara Hockaday and Ali Watt step through an advent calendar door. Photograph: Pitlochry Festival theatre

If it has more in common with the primary-coloured jollity of children’s TV than the subtlety of the best children’s theatre, it will nonetheless play well to younger viewers. Hockaday and Watt give their dilemma due weight – Christmas itself is at stake! – and repeatedly burst into song to help them on their search.

What the film can’t quite capture is an audience’s shared discovery of the set. Designed by Newman, it begins with an advent calendar of front doors, continues past books growing on trees before reaching Santa’s grotto and a mirror-ball journey into space. That’s all colourful enough on screen, but you sense it would feel revelatory if you had made the journey on foot.

Nevertheless, you will not want to miss Grogan’s syncopated rendition of Jingle Bells.

• Until 23 December, available online on the Pitlochry festival site. Also screened at Macrobert arts centre, Stirling, 11–21 December.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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