Rachael Wooding as Carole and George Maguire as Santa. Credit Robert Workman
Two years ago director Guy Retallack and his actress wife Rachel Tucker set up the Bridge House Theatre in Penge. Their first show It’s A Wonderful Life was a stunner. This year they are back with another hit on their hands - Another Night Before Christmas.
In a slight departure for the Bridge House team, this is a musical of sorts and stars Rachael Wooding and George Maguire.
The story is a simple one. Carole Elliot is a stressed out bah humbug of a 30 something social worker. She works all the hours god sends but with little reward and certainly no social or love life. And don’t get her started on Christmas - something she has been indoctrinated to believe by her nagging mother that is “one big con”.
But then one Christmas Eve night on her way home from the office Christmas party she sees a man outside her door. He looks dishevelled and thinking he’s homeless she offers him her bag of left over party food.
However, this is no homeless man. For not long after she arrives home and pours herself a generous glass of wine and settles down to watch the Christmas Bake Off does this man appear in her flat.
Thinking he’s about to rob the place she calls the police. But he insists he’s not there to take anything - merely to bestow some festive spirit on Carole and open her heart to the joys of Christmas, because as Santa that is what his job is all about.
Understandably she’s not having any of it and stubbornly refuses to believe him.
And so follows a somewhat merry dance of words between the two as he tries unsuccessfully at first to convince her that he’s the real deal.
It turns out to be tricker than he thought and by the end of act one he’s stormed out of the flat, with her in hot pursuit worried that he’s going to die on the cold streets.
We return in Act Two to see her flat transformed and the man in the kitchen rustling up some fish cakes. Little by little they get to know each other and the man adds more charm and warmth so by the end it’s quite emotional - particularly when it’s revealed that as a child all Carole had ever wanted was a Christmas like everyone else - with presents, tree, decorations and all the trimmings.
With a tight script and a few well placed, catchy musical numbers, it’s both very funny and poignant, and beautifully staged and acted with Rachael and George both bringing warmth, humour, vulnerability, charm and beautiful singing voices to it.
And the ending, while not unexpected in many ways, does give you a warm and fuzzy moment. It is just what you need to get you in the Christmas spirit.
Another Night Before Christmas is on at the Bridge House Theatre, Penge until December 23. Tickets from £10. Visit www.bhtheatre.com for full listings.