Can a Christmas show for children ever be funny? Not titter-along, fun-for-all-the-family funny, but properly funny, like an evening with a favourite stand-up? Oh yes it can (sorry).
At this time of year, just as soap-stars and faded Hollywood types turn to Aladdin and Sleeping Beauty to get them through the winter months, an increasing number of alternative and mainstream comedians are also moonlighting as children’s entertainers.
This winter, Tim Vine will be slinging panto puns around as he plays Buttons in Cinderella at New Wimbledon Theatre while Greg McHugh, aka Fresh Meat’s surly Howard, will play Smee in Peter Pan at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow. Behind the scenes, the acclaimed comedy writer Georgia Pritchett has taken time out from working on series four of Veep and the Miranda Christmas specials to rewrite The Snow Queen with added jokes for Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre.
If pantomime still does not appeal, there are a number of festive daytime comedy shows aimed at children, but sneakily suited to adults, happening this month. Comedy Club 4 Kids has stand-up sets from grown-up, high-quality acts like John Robins, Stu Goldsmith and Nish Kumar, who perform their usual sets, just without the swearing or rude bits. There are shows for the next two weekends around the south west - in London, Brighton and Surrey.
Comedy Club 4 Kids are also behind the Bloomsbury Theatre’s festive family offering this year. The Santa Claus Science Experiment (15-21 December) is written by likeable stand-up Tiernan Douieb and CBBC’s Howard Read and is billed as “an alternative panto that puts the science into Christmas”, that is suitable for 6 to 99 year olds. Comedians Rich Sandling, Bec Hill and Jo Neary are in the cast.
And then there is Funz and Gamez. This bonkers gameshow for kids premiered at the Fringe in August where it was awarded the Panel Prize in the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards. By the end of the month, comedians, actors and BBC commissioners alike were fighting over seats in the damp, unlikely cellar where it grew into a cult hit. Back then, the fact that the show featured a grumpy young out-of-work actor (comedian James Meehan) in an elf costume was just one surreal element in a gloriously anarchic hour. Now, as the show begins a festive run at London’s Soho Theatre - playing afternoons and evenings from tomorrow until 4th January - he will be in keeping with the season at least.
The Manchester stand-up Phil Ellis is the hopeless, recently divorced, Master of Ceremonies, helped or hindered by that grouchy elf, a child-hating keyboard player in a rubbish dog costume and drunken Uncle Mick. Treats for the children come in the form of silly games - marshmallow-eating, ball-throwing, staring competitions and the like – and an endless supply of sweets. The adults are kept entertained meanwhile by Ellis’ inappropriately hangdog hosting, his loose handle on the chaos around him and his teasing of the children (which sails straight over their hyped-up heads). It’s true that the children are often the unwitting fall guys here so it may not be for sensitive types, but for those who like their comedy a little dark and off-key, it’s the pick of the season. Christmas isn’t just for children, after all.
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