The Night Before Christmas
Up in the studio space at the Citz, it's Christmas Eve and chaos reigns as Dad and Holly race to get everything just-so before Santa comes. Dad's got a list: it numbers the tasks that will ensure he'll fall over a lot, get in a fankle and leave the audience of young children giggling and crowing at the sight of a supposedly responsible adult messing up even basic things, like wrapping a present.
Dad (Keith MacPherson, with formidable clowning skills he rarely reveals in mainstream theatre) is the genial, well-intentioned clutz who tries ever so hard to be organised and efficient. While the kids chortle when he comes unstuck, I suspect any grown-ups in the audience will secretly sympathise: trees can be very awkward customers to deal with.
As for the other paraphenalia of the season - cards above the mantelpiece, tinsel round the walls, stockings securely hung up - where's the health warning that says this stuff is bad for your safety (and your temper)? Mighty respect for Dad: not one swear-word is uttered, not even when the hammer hits the nail - as in his fingernail.
With a bright-as-a-button Holly (Jessica Hardwick) hilariously hindering as much as she's helping, this show for 3 to 6 year olds is a superbly orchestrated mix of slap-stick, songs and magical surprises. Exhausted, the pair finally fall asleep.
That's not quite the end, however - but I don't want to be on Santa's naughty list, so keep your eyes on the fire-place and let's just say this is a lovingly-created treat to cherish and remember.
Wee Flora finds remembering hard - impossible, really - so she decides to follow her granny's advice and tie knots in bits of string and ribbon. But Flora is easily distracted, and sometimes she forgets about the knots, so she completely forgets to post the whole school's bundle of letters to Santa and she's ruined Christmas for everybody!
A plucky girl, Flora gets on her bike - lovely peddling make-believe, and great feisty characterisation by Mary Gapinski - and heads for the North Pole Post where tap-dancing penguins sort, stamp and slide the mail to Santa's workshop.
If director Lisa Keenan's script keeps the 3 to 6 year old audience on the right track - even when Flora's adventure encounters Toni Frutin's narrator in various guises - the design by Kirsty McCabe is a winter wonderland of shimmering-shiny inventiveness in itself.
So many elements of the captivating set come to life, but when the central pillar rotates to reveal the North Pole Post, with oodles of cuddly penguin workers and a song'n'dance opportunity for Frutin and Gapinski, you really want to stand up and cheer, because yet again the Tron has gone the extra mile for little ones in December.
Carol, the buttoned-up singleton in The Night Before Christmas, the gorgeous Arches offering for young audiences, would scowl disapprovingly at these shows of seasonal entertainment. Ronnie Leer's tuts and frowns make sure we know just what a grump Carol is. She's also lonely.
Life in her rooftop flat - splendidly recreated on-stage - is a one-chair, one plate, no visitors existence. Then an Elf (Laurie Brown) falls off the back of Santa's sledge and Carol's obsessively neat, grey ways are disrupted not just for Christmas, but for ever.
Robert Alan Evans's script and direction make engagingly merry with the mishaps and misunderstandings and Leer and Brown go unstintingly to town, but it's the poignant twist that catches Carol and us, unawares: if Elf isn't back with Santa before Christmas Day... well, he'll be a late Elf in every way.
Brown's Elf just dwindles before our very eyes while Leer's anguish and determination are grippingly intense - you can feel the audience willing there to be a happy ending. There's a clever twist there as well, folks - but Carol and the Elf have made me promise: no spoilers!