The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus – Pitlochry Theatre

Adapted by Hannah Lavery from the short story by L. Frank Baum

Directed by Marc Small

Rating: 4 out of 5.

At some point or another, every child hatches a plan to snare the fat man in the red suit. And in the still of the night, this fascination with Santa Claus, a man of legend who brings glee and gift, leads young Alice to place a trap for jolly Ol’ Saint Nick. She lays out the works – Lego, Tinsel-trip Hazards, and all while keeping that sweet innocent grin. The only problem is… it isn’t Santa Alice snares in her trap.

How the legend came to be, how Claus became Santa, L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is less a prequel of sorts and more a spiritual unravelling of the myth, infusing his flavour of wonderous and bizarre creatures in a way only the writer of The Wizard of Oz can concoct. And in adapting the short story for the Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s festive production, Hannah Lavery retains the magic and intrigue of the original while infusing a distinctly Scottish flair and humour – all sparked by the mishap where Alice captures a fairy, rather than Claus.

A trade-off (of sorts) the Fairy promises (or rather, is coerced) into sharing the story of who Santa was and how he came to be. Fiona Wood takes time as the Fairy to offer snippets of narration amongst the performance sequences, serving to transition between chapters – Baum’s book comprising several time skips. Her energy alongside Rosa Lavery’s Alice is charming and effortless as the story rolls off and lifts into the air – audiences are transported from familiar settings to the Forests of Burzee and the Laughing Valleys.

Attuned with nature, Hannah Lavery’s film replicates the surrounding areas of Pitlochry, no doubt aided by the Winter Wonderland walk the Theatre presently hosts alongside viewings of the film. And even watching in the comfort of home, there’s a brittle chill in the air, almost supernatural and encourages the audience to wrap up warm. Russel Beard’s art direction and editing create a streamlined film, which after the initial inside sequences transforms the atmosphere into a mystical setting, aided by Elizabeth Newman’s design work and Ben Occhipinti’s composition.

A young babe lost in the wood, abandoned, Claus is found by an immortal being, one who understands the complexities of humankind all too well – Ak, the Master Woodsman, feels it in themselves to stay near the child. The young Claus grows alongside the charming wood nymph Necile, who is performed by Lisa Livingstone who also takes on the role of Alice’s mother. As the boy grows to adulthood and is unable to remain in the Forest, his time within the Laughing Valley introduces a more recognisable aspect – crafting toys for the children.

Undertaking a peculiar children’s tale, Lavery adapts the piece remarkably well given the thirty-five-minute run time, condensing the text while still capturing clarity in the narrative. What’s more, Marc Small’s direction seizes much of the grandeur of the original story, particularly with Jane McCarry as the supreme immortal Ak, who recognises the value and tenderness within Claus – charmingly played by Michael Cooke.

In a world of festive Pantos and jolly traditional shows, to see a more obscure tale in a Scottish setting is an encouraging sight to see. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, whether caught in person at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre where children will be treated to a small gift and a visit from Claus, or in the comfort of their bedrooms surrounded by loved ones, is a touching and different way to celebrate this year – a unique production which ties itself to the more earthen and spiritual message of the holidays.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus runs at The Pitlochry Festival Theatre until December 23rd. Tickets for which can be purchased here.

The cinematic release is also being shown at the Macrobert Arts Centre on December 11th, 12th and then the 17th to 24th.

Photo Credit – Rhy Watson

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