WHEN@ I was told that this production of perennial festive favourite The Nutcracker was ‘interactive’ I really didn’t know what to think.
>body_text<Would we be on stage with the sugar plum fairy? Would I have to dance? And what about all those mice? In reality, I really shouldn’t have worried as what followed was one of the best two hours fun I’ve ever had in a theatre. Better still, my two daughters, aged two and four absolutely loved it.
>body_text<Sheffield-based company, Paperfinch Theatre have created a truly impressive retelling of ETA Hoffman’s original Christmas story which starts with the audience being led through the theatre’s warren of back stage corridors through to where a party is being hosted by ice rink impresarios Barry and Francine.
>body_text<Crowd members mingle with the cast and we’re offered drinks and mince pies by extravagant sisters Pippa and Prudence Silvertree as we first meet the troubled and mute Billy Silvertree.
>body_text<Billy’s family want nothing to do with him and mock him for his imagination and sensitivity so it’s left to his kindly Uncle Roy to encourage the boy and assure him that his dreams are worth chasing.
>body_text<This is where the fun really starts as we are taken on a journey through Billy’s brain and encouraged to discover our ‘whimsy’ as we don different clothing and are led on a succession of adventures.
>body_text<As we enter Billy’s dreams we meet the genuinely scary Mausikins - the boy’s own family in rodent form - and at first it’s a surreal experience as we are transported into this fantastical world, before actually becoming part of it when we are split into smaller groups and led off through a succession of hidden spaces in the theatre.
>body_text<Along the way the various expeditions meet our male Sugarplum as well as an astronaut, a cowboy, a rag doll and a robot, with my family led to the beautiful fairy glen-like woods where we crafted playdough into recognisable objects to remind the Tree of Knowledge of the things he had forgotten.
>body_text<If all this sounds a bit awkward and uncomfortable, I can assure you it isn’t. Instead you simply get swept along with the glorious incongruity of it all and delight in the faces of your smiling children. My pair were absolutely transfixed as we read stories to a spider in the theatre’s basement only to be led upstairs to play dot to dot with a spaceman.
>body_text<The whole thing felt exquisitely designed and planned, but loose enough for you to never feel like the fun was being enforced. It was exciting, creative and original and by the time we reached the theatre’s temporary ice rink for a skate, we didn’t want to wake up from what was a dream of an afternoon.