Star rating *****

Little Light Star rating **** MacRobert Centre, Stirling

Probably the most heart-rending, verge-of-tears moment on this year's seasonal circuit can be found near the beginning of Rudolf, Andy Manley's utterly inspired and uplifting theatre piece for the three-to-five age group.

It's Christmas, and in the drab, dilapidated wee shack shared by Ross Allan and Michael Gray, there's nothing to eat - and no presents. No whining, spats or sulks either, though. Instead there's oddball humour and the kind of contentment you can't buy gift-wrapped in some glitzy shop.

And this is where you discover an unexpected lump in your throat. Gray wraps his hand in newspaper; when Allan rips the paper away, he gets a wave. Allan responds by wrapping his head in newspaper, and when Gray tears that off he gets a cracking great smile. We, meanwhile, get a reminder of what matters most as they "try on" their presents and, smiling and waving, celebrate the sustaining joy of friendship.

Sustenance, however - as in food - is still not in evidence. Time to call on Esmeralda the hen. No, don't jump to dreadful conclusions. The lads just want an egg, please. But it's nowt for nowt with Esmeralda, so they bribe her with a story.

What follows is one of those charming, funny and slightly bittersweet tales, which shines a thoughtful light on troublesome, upsetting scenarios that can dog childhood and linger on ever after. Rudolf's parents constantly tell him he's "special", but snooty Olive the Other Reindeer (say it out loud) instantly labels him a reject, because that nose makes him different.

Luckily, Rudolf - now lost in the dark wood - meets another loner, Ugly the Duck, and a silly, happy camaraderie of shared fun and games blossoms until well, as the popular song has it, Rudolf with his nose so bright has to guide Santa's sleigh, so that Christmas isn't cancelled due to bad weather.

The performances are tender, witty and adorable, and the set (by Claire Halleran) is awash with eye-catching detail. And if this wasn't enough to prove Manley is a whizz at devising work for younger audiences, the MacBob is also catering for the under-threes with the Byre-Starcatchers co-production of Little Light, which he created with Vanessa Rigg.

Lois Creasy and Itaxso Moreno guide our eyes, ears and imaginations through a sensory wonderland full of magical surprises, their own voices creating a delicious musicality as they murmur "Little Light high Little Light low" and take the little glowing globe on a journey that ends on a cosmic note and a join-in chorus of Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.

Brilliant, in every way.