Mike Kenny’s adaptation of The Elves And The Shoemakers, orginated at York’s Theatre Royal, is a lovely little hour-long diversion from the Christmas shopping if you have young children – or even if you don’t. The story itself is typically heart-warming: an elderly couple, too poor to even buy each other Christmas presents, are on the verge of selling their shoemaking business, until one night two little elves transform their fortunes. It’s the way that Kenny and director Juliet Forster bring this tale to life though that has the young audience transfixed throughout.
Hannah Sibai’s set is a doll’s house, sat in the middle of the Studio’s stage, which opens up to reveal the shoemaker’s shop. From there, we’re introduced to the shoemaker (Steven Cavanagh) and his wife (Maria Gray) who open up with a couple of catchy songs and introduction to their shop. Both actors are relatively youthful compared to their characters but they capture the shuffling awkwardness of old age quite beautifully.
It’s the elves that the young audience have been waiting for, and when they first appear about 20 minutes into the production, they’re greeted with gasps and coos. Represented by beautifully carved puppets (and controlled by the two actors), they have little personalities of their own – bickering, making up, and even communicate in their own little language (references to “boofy shoes” seem destined to be repeated by children to ever irritated parents this Christmas).
The sight of the two elves dashing around the workshop making shoes out of one piece of leather is fun to watch, but Cavanagh and Gray don’t let the puppets steal the show totally. Their relationship is gentle and romantic, and both of them demonstrate an aptitude to physical comedy when impersonating satisfied customers buying their new shoes. There’s even an impressive touch of flossing from both of them during the closing moments.
The Elves And The Shoemakers doesn’t need to rely on meta humour or awkward innuendos to keep the adults entertained. This is a gentle show that is very much aimed at very young children, but parents will also be easily charmed by the refreshing way that Kenny and Forster have delivered this classic tale.