Exactly one year ago West End theatres were once again shutting up shop as the virus wreaked havoc on the industry. Indeed, venues all round the country were facing the prospect of a bleak midwinter as productions they had spent much time and money on bringing to fruition found themselves facing inevitable closure. The Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle had gone to great lengths to ensure its production of a new piece would go ahead. Described as “A brand new festive, family friendly, Covid-19 safe, immersive performance for one household/support bubble at a time”, Love From… actually only played to one lucky group of four – mum, dad and two children. However, it was at least recorded for posterity and makes an interesting watch in the run up to this Christmas.
It’s an immersive experience where participants move through the venue although the first section takes place outside as a passing busker called Diji entertains the family with songs. Unfortunately, when he goes into the building to post a letter to those he won’t be able to see over Christmas, he is kidnapped by the dastardly Wanda Woolftooth who is dead set against anything festive. So, it becomes the participants’ task to rescue him. They are guided and assisted by a representative from the Nice And Toastie Delivery Service as they complete tasks and solve puzzles before breaking Diji free and finally encountering Wanda herself. It’s a very sweet show where the modern day inclination to use the internet for communication purposes is deliberately set against the rather more traditional but personal notion of letter writing. As three primary schools and two care homes were consulted as part of the show’s development process I’m assuming that it was intended to encourage a buddy system where children send letters to the elderly – what a lovely idea.
It’s an odd feeling watching someone else’s experience of a personalised show such as this but one of the bonuses is getting to see the reactions of the two youngsters. As children do, they take it all at face value and get fully stuck into the various scenarios. Writer/director Ali Pritchard has made excellent use of the various spaces, at least it seems that way – having never been there it’s hard to tell – and there’s great use of detail in dressing the various sets through which the family pass. There’s some excellent use made of shadow play too to match Wanda’s pre recorded voice (Judi Earl) while Digi Solanke makes an appealing central character. Whether you choose the video or audio version of the show, the whole thing is delightful. Even though it must have been a huge disappointment to the theatre not to be able to share this with other participants it radiates positivity and has a message full of “comfort and joy”.
While you’re on the Alphabetti website you might also want to check out the theatre’s other festive offering, also released last year. This is Merry Xmas, Holly And Ivan by Christina Berriman Dawson and Richard Dawson. The former narrates a tale set back in the good old days of the 1990s when a family can’t afford Christmas because of vet bills for their dog. However, an encounter with Santa – though not the usual version, particularly when it comes to the compilation of the “naughty and nice” list – helps to put everything right. Again, this is a delightful short piece which is winningly illustrated by Jack Holden. It will enchant 7 – 10 year olds and as with the first piece also carries a responsibility message – in this case, “A dog is for life, not just Christmas”.
Alphabetti are back live this year (from tomorrow) with the interestingly titled Santa Must Die so fingers crossed for them that this one doesn’t get clobbered too. As reports of Covid once again shutting down theatres start to circulate, this pair of productions from 12 months ago shows just how resourceful and resilient the industry is having to be. It’s remarkable to reflect that at no time over the last nearly two years has there ever been a point at which the creative hive mind of playmakers has stopped operating. Long may that be the case.