Reviews NationalSheffield Published 9 December 2019

Review: The Elves and the Shoemakers at Sheffield Theatres

5 December - 4 January

‘Gasps and coos’: John Murphy writes on the careful craft and gentleness of a Grimm’s Tale for young children.

John Murphy
Maria Gray and Steven Cavanagh in The Elves and the Shoemakers at Sheffield Theatres. Design, Hannah Sibai; lighting design, Simon Bedwell; puppets, Peter O'Rourke. Photo: Northedge Photography.

Maria Gray and Steven Cavanagh in The Elves and the Shoemakers at Sheffield Theatres. Design, Hannah Sibai; lighting design, Simon Bedwell; puppets, Peter O’Rourke. Photo: Northedge Photography.

It’s fair to say that pantomime isn’t to everyone’s taste. And if you have very young children, the sensory overload of the typical panto may prove a bit too much. Which is why it’s good that there’s lots of alternative Christmas shows, be they musicals or, in this case, an adaptation of the old Grimm Classics fairytale.

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.

The Elves and the Shoemakers runs at Sheffield Theatres until 4th January. More info here.

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John Murphy

John is the former editor of, and current contributor to, musicOMH. He lives in Sheffield, in the shadow of the famous Crucible and Lyceum theatres, and also reviews in nearby Leeds and Manchester. John is also a huge fan of stand-up comedy, and can be often be found in one of Sheffield's comedy clubs, laughing like a madman.

Review: The Elves and the Shoemakers at Sheffield Theatres Show Info


Directed by Juliet Forster

Written by Mike Kenny, after the Brothers Grimm

Cast includes Steven Cavanagh, Maria Gray

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