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

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory