Preview: Horrible Christmas and Awful Auntie, Alexandra Palace Theatre and Bloomsbury Theatre
PUBLISHED: 09:39 06 December 2018 | UPDATED: 09:39 06 December 2018
Hampstead artistic director Neal Foster is behind two festive family shows at freshly renovated venues this Christmas
The first major production to grace the historic boards of Alexandra Palace’s newly renovated Theatre is Horrible Christmas, written by Horrible Histories legend Terry Deary.
The Victorian playhouse re-opened earlier this month after 80 years - it closed in 1935 when the BBC moved into the Muswell Hill landmark.
Neal Foster, the Hampstead-based artistic director of the Birmingham Stage Company which is staging Horrible Christmas, says the refurbished venue is “the perfect setting.”
With a cast of eight, and original songs, the show follows a young boy called Watson who with friend Shirley Holmes is on a mission to save Christmas from the evil clutches of Sidney Claus and his reindeer henchman Rudolf.
“Bad Santa wants to destroy Christmas and goes back in time to the pivotal moments in history which created the festival we all know today to try to stop it from happening,” says Foster.
Historical pitstops include Henry VIII celebrating with the first Christmas turkey, Charles Dickens at the point of writing A Christmas Carol, and the Bishop of Myra – or Saint Nicolas – starting the tradition of gift-giving to a young girl.
“Santa goes all the way back to a stable near Bethlehem to try to put a stop to the whole thing,” adds Foster. “Along the way we stopping off at those points in history where we meet these amazing characters like the Puritans, who wanted to ban all games and festivities.”
Like all Horrible Histories shows; between the fart jokes, rapping monarchs and lightning costume changes, audiences might actually learn something.
“It’s a very special show in a very special venue; a mish-mash of songs, popular culture and a lovely moving storyline where you go back to the very beginnings of Christmas. You come away knowing a lot more about why we do what we do for Christmas while having a lot of fun.
“We take it for granted that we’ve always done these things, but how we celebrate is actually a very recent invention.
“It’s the last time we will be able to have Rudolf the Rednosed Reinder in the show because he was only created by Robert L May in 1939 and the people who own his estate are taking him back,” says Foster.
Birmingham Stage Company are also bringing their adaptation of David Walliams’ Awful Auntie to the newly re-opened Bloomsbury Theatre this Christmas.
The former Belsize Park resident has previously given his permission for Foster to adapt Gansta Granny and Billionnaire Boy.
“David gets quite involved, we send him the drafts and his notes are always very perceptive,” says Foster.
“He comes to rehearsals and opening nights. He’s very collaborative but doesn’t interfere artistically and lets us get on with it. He sees his books as a living breathing entity which can evolve. But the way he stuctures his stories is so clever, I stick pretty close to them.”
In Awful Auntie wealthy orphan Stella wakes up from a coma to find her parents are dead and her aunt is trying to kill her.
In lonely mansion Saxby Hall she joins forces with Soot the ghost of a dead chimney sweep to fend off the evil aunt’s murderous plans to snatch her inheritance.
“We don’t stint on the action and do everything that is in the book in a theatrical way.
“Anyone coming to see the show will see what’s in the book, There’s a fight on a rooftop where Stella falls off, a Rolls Royce and a motorbike, and it’s set in an enormous mansion which was a big challenge, but we have a fantastic set.”
“It’s a comedy and a horror story but what made me want to adapt is is I fell in love with Stella’s fighting spirit. She shows enormous resilience and ingenuity. She’s up against such a monster that we really root for her and want to see if can she survive this onslaught.”
Horrible Christmas runs at Alexandra Palace Theatre from December 13-30 theatre.alexandrapalace.com and Awful Auntie runs at Bloomsbury Theatre from December 12 until January 6 thebloomsbury.com