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Crackers: A Festive Family Farce at Polka Theatre

Doors. Lots of them. Stage Left. Stage Right. Upstage. Mid-stage. Downstage. A big cupboard – with, yes, you’ve guessed it – doors. And drawers. And a suspicious-looking fireplace, bricked-up and covered with wallpaper. And a
table – also with drawers. And there’s holes: in the walls. Lots of holes. And crevices. And gaps. And nooks. And grannies. Sorry – I mean crannies. But there will be grannies, I bet – watch this space. So – pre-curtain – what does this (more than) cursory scrutiny of the set tell us?

Crackers: A Festive Family FarceYes, folks! It’s got FARCE written all over it!

And the four large reverse letters we spy at the top – S-T-E-P – tell us that this is a house at the back of a shop and, yes: it’s a Pet Shop, Boys! And Girls! And we are in for some Farcical Festive Fun!

Writer Charles Way has a long pedigree of creating shows for children and he does Christmas shows as well as anyone. And in Crackers, Way provides us with a real treat.

I say us but clearly, this is a kids’ show and believe me the kids love it. It’s a Pet Shop so all those nooks and crannies inevitably have animals poking their noses out to the delight of the audience who spot them much quicker than I could. In particular, there’s the white rat called Napoleon. (My one reservation is that Napoleon never appears out of a Wellington boot). Napoleon is the special pet of rancid-football-shirt-hugging Joe, the teenage son of Mum, Sue.

Andy Umerah, as Joe, is our genial host, a Cheeky Chappy who narrates and guides us through the Legend of the… no, sorry: no spoilers. It’s a sparky performance by Umerah who quickly gains the confidence of his young audience and with his energetic effervescence never allows the action to flag.

Sera Mustafa plays his sister, Maia, sporting a wholly recognisable pouty teenage-angst when not channelling her own electric energy. It’s a great double act between the siblings with never a dull moment as they lurch from
humorous banter to crazed elation.

Mum Sue (Amy Loughton) has been in the pet trade so long that she constantly bursts into an eclectic array of very convincing animal sounds. Big props to Loughton who’ll more than likely get a call from Sir David Attenborough anytime soon.

Phil Yarrow is Mike, Sue’s wannabe love interest, whose aversion to rats makes him fall flat on his face whenever Napoleon appears – which, inevitably, is a lot. Yarrow may need a stunt double by the end of the run when he – inevitably – runs out of ointment for his bruises. Talking of doubles, Yarrow also plays the slimy Estate Agent Mr Dribble – very convincing: we’ve all met him. And, too, he appears as George as we flash back to World War Two and the Legend of the t… No, you’re not catching me like that.

Now I promised you grannies: enter Great Grandmother Cath who is one hundred years old. A sprightly, with-it and entirely savvy one hundred I might add played to immaculate comic perfection by Erika Poole. Cath likes cake, wields a good handbag and is clearly pivotal in the Legend of the tin and… oops – nearly let my guard down there!

Theres a lot of laughs here, a lot of rushing about and a lot of good clean festive fun. Director Nicky Allpress gets the absolute best out of her vivacious and fizzy cast and Puppet Designer Michael Fowkes keeps the audience on its toes with the ubiquitous pop-up Napoleon. Oh – sorry: did you think it was a real rat?

And all those doors and drawers and nooks and mouse-holes are the brainchild of Set Designer Liz Cooke. Great stuff!

Crackers is a superb kids’ show so take them along and soak up the magical Polka experience.

5 Star Rating

Review by Peter Yates

Meet The Crackers. They’re trying to get ready for Christmas Day, but it’s not easy when the family pet shop is going out of business, Great Gran’s expecting a visit from Father Christmas and Napoleon the rat is on the loose.

Amy Loughton – Sue (Mum)
Andy Umerah – Joe
Erika Poole – Great Grandma Cath
Phil Yarrow – Mike/ George/ Mr Dribble
Sera Mustafa – Maia

Creative Team
Written by Charlie Way
Directed by Nicky Allpress
Set and Costume Designer – Liz Cooke
Lighting Designer – Anna Reddyhoff
Sound Designer – Anna Short
Puppet Designer and Maker – Michael Fowkes
Movement Director – Dave Hearn
Stage Manager – Micaëla Corcoran
Assistant Stage Manager – Grace Kavanagh

19th Nov 2022 – 15th Jan 2023

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  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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