Rudolf – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse
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.
Of 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.
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