Rudolf – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse

rudolf review leeds

By Matt Callard, November 2016

It doesn’t always have to be the giddy, gaudy overkill of pantomime in order to give your kids a Christmas theatre thrill. Rudolf takes the classic reindeer tale, twists it, sets it in the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s intimate 360 degree Barber Studio, adds an innovative, unfolding set and a couple of unlikely reindeer in the very human forms of Peter Hobday and Mitesh Soni.

What evolves is an immersive experience for 2-6 year-olds. They’ll have to extend their imaginations (there are no fluffy animal costumes here) and contend with some playful and amusing audience interaction from the actors as Rudolf journeys from shunned outsider teased about his schnozzle, to the reindeer who saves Christmas.

rudolf review leedsOf course, it’s a different kind of skill performing to and for children. They really are the toughest audience – and they will let the performers know with fidgets and chat if any part of any scene just starts to sag a little. The actors really need to sell each and every line.

“The set itself might just be the real star”

So it’s to Hobday’s and Soni’s credit that the vast majority of the assembled children live every minute of the performance. Most sit spellbound, others call out and join in, the occasional one stares up in wonderment at the array of mirror balls, lights and ornaments that dangle (and occasionally rise and fall) from the lighting rig.

Indeed the set itself might just be the real star. The actors climb on it, pull things from it, transform it from lonely, icy outcrop to warm and welcoming reindeer house with a few seamless adjustments. It’s a real creation and helps hold the attention throughout the 50-minute, no interval performance.

rudolf review leeds

Physical comedy abounds, with Hobday particularly lithe and energetic as he scrambles, slips and climbs around the set. The jokes are good, including one neat bit of improvisation when one over-excited kiddie yells to a nearby actor to ‘go and see Santa’. “Fanta? I don’t like Fanta,” says Hobday.

“There’s a proper spectacle for a finale”

Sound effects are good, from an icy wind to a haunting Rudolph aria. As always at The Playhouse, the technical stuff is excellent.

There’s even a proper spectacle for a finale, with plenty of oohs-and-aahs from kids and adults alike.

I ask my two-year-old son what he thinks of it afterwards. He says he liked it. Which is really the only recommendation you need and much more important than my own ramblings.

So take the little ones to see Rudolf this Christmas. And watch them transfixed and transported to another world for an hour.

Photography by Anthony Robling



  1. Victor 30 December, 2016 at 18:50 Reply

    Matt Callard cannot have been to see the production of ‘Rudolf’ we have just endured.

    Absolutely zero audience participation, no songs, no Rudolf, a dire script and no clarity of purpose. A glance from time-to-time around the auditorium reveals a sea of unimpressed faces.

    When, 45 minutes in, an intelligent and thoughtful three year old asks ‘Where’s Rudolf, where’s the sleigh, where’s Santa’ you know that their first visit to the theatre has been a failure and you worry that they may have been turned off theatre for the future.

    The Christmas productions at the West Yorkshire Playhouse have always been a joy for us. Not this year!

  2. Jan 29 December, 2016 at 20:57 Reply

    Rubbish. Waste of money. I bought 8 tix ( 5 grandkids +3 adults) not a cheap afternoon. No joyful familiar Christmas songs. Not even chance to sing Rudolf Red Nose Reindeer. Almost no audience participation. Oh we felt obliged to wave occasionally. Just 2 scary looking blokes doing weird stuff between themselves. The dialogue was incomprehensible. It was advertised for toddlers not avante guard pretentious waffle.

  3. Jan 29 December, 2016 at 20:48 Reply

    Totally agree. Very Disappointed not to see any form of a reindeer. I bought 8 tickets so no cheap outing for 5 grandkids plus 3 adults. No warm joyful familiar Christmas songs to swing along to and join in. Far too much complex internal dialogue between 2 rather scary looking blokes. Why no women? Not even a good hearty chance to sing Rudolf Red Nose Reindeer. Difficult to follow any plot or understand the changes of characterisation. Rubbish!!

  4. Jenny 26 December, 2016 at 18:27 Reply

    Went to see rudolph at leeds playhouse today with my family including two young children. What a complete waste of 16 pounds. Very disappointed. It was just two men prancing about and talking nonsense. Absolute rubbish.

  5. Emma 20 December, 2016 at 22:58 Reply

    Totally disagree with the report. This performance was a complete waste of £48. Advert was misleading, acting was not the best, humour was lacking and the slight costume changes for character changes were too subtle for children that this performance was aimed at.

  6. kim walker 19 December, 2016 at 19:06 Reply

    I agree with earlier comments
    ….a complete waste of £16 with no Christmas magic at all and really badly advertised! Where was rudolph as portrayed in the pictures

  7. Pam Gooding 16 December, 2016 at 22:39 Reply

    My nearly 4 year old granddaughter was very disappointed, she wanted to know where Rudolph was! This has been poorly advertised. It didn’t portray Christmas whatsoever or Santa Claus and Rudolph.
    There were a number of very young schoolchildren there who seemed oblivious to the whole story.
    Waste of money, don’t go.

  8. Dr Hoath 15 December, 2016 at 16:09 Reply

    Have been today with three year old twins. Such a disappointment. Lacked pace and engagement for younger children. Felt very missold on the “Rudolf” concept and accompanying images (of the reindeer).
    On the way home the children asked if they would be able to see Rudolf soon…says it all.
    Waste of money. Don’t go.

    • Margaret Dugdale 16 December, 2016 at 08:31 Reply

      I couldn’t agree more. The advertising material for this production shows an animated reindeer not two men cavorting around a poor set. All my grandson wanted to know was when Rudolf would be appearing! The advertising material should have featured images from the actual production

  9. Stefan Kurth 5 December, 2016 at 22:04 Reply

    I cannot agree with this review. Did the writer see the same production? Poor script. Poor set. No Christmas magic.
    I bought tickets as a treat for my children and five grandchildren. What a waste of money.
    Primary school pupils could write and put on a better show.
    I expect much much better from the WYP.

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