It’s not every day that you get to tread the boards at the MAC theatre or explore backstage seeing everything from dressing rooms to the secrets of the set. That’s what happened when I caught up with Daniel Rivers, Katie Shortt and Jack Watson from the cast the MAC’s brand-new festive show, The Night Before Christmas.
Written by Stephen Beggs and Simon Magill and produced by the MAC, the show tells the tale of a naïve young queen Talia (Katie Shortt) struggling to help her kingdom which is being controlled by the arrogant and calculating commissioner (Sean Kearns) who governs the land with an iron fist, prioritising science and facts over fun and creativity.
The commissioner often finds himself at odds with the queen’s much loved storyteller Noelle (Allison Harding) so when he discovers her plans to make a book containing all Talia’s favourite fairytales as a surprise Christmas gift, he devises a plan that will cause Noelle to lose her memory as what good is a storyteller without stories?
This launches the audience into an astounding adventure filled with colourful characters, terrific tales and masterly musical numbers, offering a fantastically festive escapade - perfect for the Christmas period.
Having just finished their first performance in front of a sea of captivated school children the adrenaline and joy within the cast was evident.
“I didn’t do any of the choreography at the end,” Katie confessed.
“I play a Disney princess-type character and I’ve never been in a show before where there is so much joy coming from the kids, they were blowing me kisses and all so everything else just went out the window.”
In comparison Daniel was feeling a distinct sense of relief that they had managed to keep the children’s attention through the entire 110-minute show, “I was scared because they’re all so used to TVs and iPads that they would just lose interest but no they were totally invested which and they were reacting with it as it went along, they were laughing, gasping it was great.”
“That’s also a great age as well,” added Jack.
“If they were a few years older you’d maybe getting a bit of badness from them but when they are talking during the show it’s in response to what’s happening on stage. So, when Noelle got poisoned and the commissioner claims he had nothing to do with it somebody at the back went ‘yes you did’ which was brilliant.”
In addition to giving stellar performances in their multiple roles the cast were also required to sing, dance, and provide their own musical accompaniment which despite being challenging, added to the show’s appeal.
“I just graduated in July, and I really want to be an actor musician which means that we act, dance and play instruments as well rather than having to employ another band,” Katie explained.
“I think it’s such a challenging form of theatre which is one of the reasons I wanted to be involved with this show.”
Having recently received a BA Honours in Acting from Leeds Conservatoire this is Katie’s Christmas show debut, not bad for an actress who has never seen a pantomime...
“I’ve never ever seen a panto in my life whereas the rest of the cast are legends at it and are helping me a lot,” she said.
Katie’s audition process lasted a gruelling six months before she got the part whereas the experience was very different for Daniel who juggles the roles of the utterly fabulous Duckling and one of the three little pigs.
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“I live in London, but I was back home over the summer doing Tosca in the Grand Opera House and I just reached out and they were actually auditioning at the time, so they invited me down and I auditioned on the Friday at 12.30pm and by 3.30pm I got a call asking me to do it and here I am,” he laughed.
Whereas it was previous work with members of the crew that got Jack snapped up to play the commissioner’s sidekick, Fiscal, and another of the three little pigs in the production.
“I didn’t know anything about it, I’d worked with the composer Garth McConaghie recently and I’d done a couple of bits and pieces with the director Lisa May as well and Garth just asked if I was available at Christmas, and I said yes without knowing any of the details.
“So, for me it was the team that both got me into the job and attracted me to it,” he said.
Bringing a multitude of classic characters to life the show is a feast for the eyes.
Both the set and costumes were designed by Diana Ennis who has successfully created detailed, vibrant and multilayered visuals. Most notably the three little pig costumes and the fabulous duckling ensemble which capture the essence of the characters perfectly.
Although the cast does admit that they are “a little bit warm” onstage particularly as some of them are wearing other costumes underneath.
“There was steam coming out of the pig costume last night during the dress rehearsal,” admits Jack.
The show will run until January 7 often doing two shows a day, but the cast have planned various ways of keeping the momentum going.
“We play little games that don’t affect the show and that the audience have no idea about.
“One year they passed a conker around from hand to hand in the show and just the anticipation of that keeps you going,” says Katie.
“We did it with a kinder egg one year,” Jack recalls,
“And it got snuck into my pocket and I didn’t realise, then at the end of the show there was just chocolate all down my leg so we’re not doing that this year,” he cringed.
Despite being a children’s Christmas show The Night Before Christmas is a well-balanced blend of drama, comedy and social commentary focusing on the current state of the arts industry. It is thought provoking but funny, emotional, and also joyful.
Daniel describes the story as “so feel good, it's about stories that everyone knows but with a twist so it’s not the traditional tales you heard as a child - you need to come and hear the changes and there’s also a lot of important messages intertwined as well.”
“It’s not a panto, it’s far more absorbing it’s about taking everyone on a journey, appreciating art – it feels a lot more magical,” added Katie.
Nodding in agreement Jack made the additional point that: “The show at its core is about the importance of art in peoples lives and I think reminding the audience of that is a good thing to do.”
The Night Before Christmas is at The MAC until January 7. Themaclive.com