When I hear the word culture, I reach for my chewing gum / THEATRE

Cinderella / Manchester; The Tinder Box / N Staffs

Let's hear it for the real stars of the Christmas shows. First the ushers: the woman on the door at the Vic in Newcastle under Lyme, genial and welcoming, but whom no potentially explosive can shall pass; the young people at Contact in their less than modish Cinderella T-shirts stitching a complex pattern of groups and schools across the rows so that no child is left with trembling lip amid some alien horde. Then the women with bin-bags, the teachers, group-leaders and helpers who have sold the t ickets, booked the coach, taken them to the lavatory and intend that not one wrapper or straw will be littered in their wake. Marshalling six or seven hundred excited and often street-wise 6 to 11-year-olds within the decorum of theatre-going is no task for wimps. It presents a scene that glib commentators on social decay, failing education and the abandonment of childcare would do well to ponder.

And the kids listen. True there's a constant susurrus of bags and packets, a few yawns and the odd facetious shout, but their attention spans much further than is fashionably believed. Peter Whelan's first play for children, The Tinder Box, adapted from a Hans Christian Andersen story, is unfamiliar and quite densely plotted, but it was readily followed, and the deductions required to contribute the necessary magic words to help out the hero, obviously easy-peasy. Stuart Paterson's Cinderel la, the Playmakes fewer demands, but does have a more complex story to tell in that both the Prince and a kitchen-boy are vying for Cinderella's affections. Both scripts rely primarily upon dialogue and character, and both clearly absorbed the overwhelm ing majority of their young audiences.

At Contact, the new artistic director, Benjamin Twist, has chosen to make Cinderella his debut production. In view of the theatre's brief as a space for young people, it is an admirably committed decision to eschew a more fashionable occasion. The show suggests that we might expect fluid, clearly presented work.

This impression is much enhanced by Simon Banham's strikingly simply but colourful set of many curtains, and Twist's skilful use of them to move the narrative. He has also found a strong young lead in the newcomer Naomi Radcliffe, but the boldest single feature is a brilliant ensemble kitchen routine in which the cast, led by percussionist Tim Williams, bang out Mark Vibrans's score on a collection of pots and pans.

The musical interludes in The Tinder Box are less original, but the text is so strong that they are less vital. The two stories - of the homeless soldier back from the wars who, under the guidance of a witch, acquires wealth and a magic tinder box from aperilous descent into the underworld, and of a princess locked away by her parents in a copper tower because a fortune-teller has said she will fall in love with a common soldier - have a predictable convergence, but the twists and turns are always intriguing.

Playing the soldier, another promising young actor (Daniel Tomlinson) has a strong bearing and sympathetic presence. His advice on sleeping out, with special reference to rats and snakes, will have been well- heeded: a bit of practical learning in the broad social education that is Christmas theatre.

n `Cinderella' runs until 14 Jan. Box-office: 061-274 4400

n `The Tinder Box' is in rep to 28 Jan. Box-office: 01782 717962

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital