NODA review of Once Upon a Christmas Song

Performance: Saturday, 4th December 2021

Review by: Richard Fitt

Arriving at Sharnbrook Mill Theatre after a heavy day, and already having done a pantomime in the afternoon, we were slightly jaded and praying we had enough energy to last the show without nodding off. We needn’t have worried. By the time we left, we were thoroughly rejuvenated and absolutely enthralled with what we had just seen. For what we had just witnessed was a masterclass in how to put on a musical variety show with about as near to technical perfection as it is possible to get and wonderful feel-good memories to drive home to.

The set was a warm, comfortable living room all set for Christmas, complete with presents, a log fire and a fully decorated, very tall Christmas tree. Entrances consisted of double, glass-panelled doors rear centre stage and a walk off behind the tree, stage left. Above, there was a gallery complete with live band and staircase down to the stage, stage right. All beautifully decorated and ready for Christmas. Add to that a full house and the atmosphere was very Christmassy indeed!

The costumes were mainly lounge suits with a dinner suit for the compere and even a black and gold Harlequin jacket. The ladies ball gowns were a fashion display of elegance in their own right and all perfectly suited the scenes they displayed. The opening scene featured a couple (Tim Jackson-Waite, Julie Futcher) and their daughter (Jess Samples) getting ready for the party, with the wife in her dressing gown doing up her husband’s bow tie and explaining what was going to happen. Very clever!

What followed was an evening, with Tim Jackson-Waite acting as our compere, with a series of beautifully-sung songs: many old classics and some from musicals, interspersed with readings, passages from plays and some very funny skits. Some thirty-eight items in total. It was simply a great Christmas feast of entertainment. There were, for example, excerpts from Little Women, The Pickwick Papers, A Christmas Carol, songs from Holiday Inn, The Polar Express, Sunset Boulevard, Into The Woods, Cinderella, Catch Me If You Can and Anastasia to name but a few. Sprinkle that with a bit of humour with, for example, a skit of a very funny Yorkshire version of a children’s nativity play, or a hilarious but slightly rude story about Santa and how the fairy ended up on the top of the Christmas tree. Absolutely fabulous entertainment. So many items, in fact, it was impossible to remember the detail of each individual item without seeing it all over again.

What was so good about it was the technical production. Each number moved seamlessly into the next, the band never missed a beat, the choreography was sublime, the lighting and sound were spot on cue, the pace was riveting and you were sucked into the evening and your own world was left far behind. Something I think we all need in today’s troubled times. It didn’t flag or let up for a moment, it was an absolute joy to behold. One the best shows I’ve seen Sharnbrook, nay anyone, perform.

I have no intention of singling out any actor, singer or dancer, as they were all so in harmony with each other, you really couldn’t fault anybody or single anyone out above anyone else: this was a team effort of the highest quality. I will simply list this amazing bunch: band, cast and crew at the end of this review.

Kathryn Rose, listed in the programme as Director and Concept Developer, not a title I’ve come across in a programme before, but somewhat of a perfect description in this case, states in her notes, and I paraphrase, “It takes much longer than ‘book musicals’ to create this type of show.” Well, lady, I’ll bet it did! I take my hat off to you and your team for spending the time you did in ‘establishing the style’ and sourcing the material you did. Clearly a lot of thought and effort, the results of which will remain long in the memory.

Thank you for such a fantastic and enchanting evening. The rest of Christmas is now well set-up and our festive spirit is in full flow!

The incredible cast:
Heather Allan, Graham Breeze, Imogen Burn, Leisa Cooke, Julie Futcher, Michael Horne, Tim Jackson-Waite, Gordon Ritchie, Jess Samples, John Stevens, Elisabeth Thorne, Scott Topping, Kaye Vincent, Becky Woodham & Mark Woodham.

The fabulous band:
Kaye Tompkins – MD / Keys 1
Andrew Longland-Meech – Keys 2
Lee Wong – Double Bass / Bas Guitar
Andy Stewart – Saxophone / Clarinet / Flute
Mike Kilsby – Drums / Percussion

The amazing crew:
Kathryn Rose – Director and Concept Developer
Kaye Tompkins – Musical Director
Davina Beegoo-Price – Movement Director & Co-Director
Sue Lander – Production Manager
Ricky Johnson – Stage Manager & Lighting Designer
ASM & Props – Alison Moles
Mark Luckin – Sound Designer & Engineer
Design Assistant – Condoleezza Hankins
Ricky Johnson, Kevin Beirne, Gerry Stafford, Brian Wood – Set Building
David Russell, Elaina Waterhouse, Josh Bambridge, Condoleezza Hankins – Followspots
Simon Thorne & Firesparkle Productions – Photography

More can be read about the cast, crew and band here.

And finally thank you to FOH Manager Andrew Knight for your usual hospitality. Always a pleasure to visit The Mill.