Countdown to Christmas

The start of December marks open season for Christmas music and performances, and P&P have been quick off the mark with this very enjoyable show. It is staged primarily by the musical theatre wing of the society, but they are joined by the P&P Singers and it is good to see the two groups working together in harmony – in every sense.

As one has come to expect from this group, there is lots of movement, Sophie Wright’s choreography being interpreted slickly and with bags of energy, notably in the tap accompaniment to ‘Happy holiday’. Under Dani Warner’s skilful direction, the numbers flow naturally into each other, helped where necessary by the genial compering of Chris Burdon.

But it is the singing by which the show stands or falls, and on that measure it most definitely stands. There is a mixture of solos, small groups and chorus numbers. The groups allow for some lovely harmonies, notably in ‘Candy Cane Lane’, the beautiful ‘Huron carol’ and the unaccompanied ‘Only you’, taken to number one at Christmas 1983 by the all but forgotten Flying Pickets. Among the solos, Rosie Luxford in particular shows what a fine voice she has in ‘Let it snow’ and ‘Warm this winter’, but all the soloists are of a high standard.

This applies especially to the first-half closer, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It is a brave number to attempt with such variation in the ability among the cast to move well on stage and at one or two points I thought disaster loomed, but it is held together by the strong tenor of Paul Simkin and the rapturous applause it received was well-deserved.

There are some surprises along the way. ‘When a child is born’, sung by the ever-reliable David Edge, is accompanied by Donna Cheese’s signing, done so elegantly that it is as close to dance as to signing. There is the lovely setting of ‘Peace on Earth/Little drummer boy’ with Paul Simkin and Crispin Goodall as David Bowie and Bing Crosby respectively, and a song that was new to me: ‘Christmas Island’ (‘How’d you like to hang a stocking on a great big coconut tree?’).

It is interesting to hear the Singers under their new Musical Director, Nick Sanders. Their numbers have been reduced, with only four sopranos and four altos, but this makes for a better balance and allows the bottom parts’ contribution to the harmonies to be heard more clearly. It is also more demanding, though, and the smooth, mellow quality of the previous choir has survived only partially.

Christmas is a time for children and there is a chorus of ‘Santa’s little helpers’ that raises the ‘aaahh’ factor several notches. They are talented and well drilled, and one of the boys performing ‘Walking in the air’ has a glorious treble voice – why is it that a treble can hit an emotional nerve that even the best soprano cannot reach? The children are particularly effective in ‘Do you hear what I hear?’.

The proficient orchestra can sometimes drown out the singers if you are sitting near the front, for example in the early part of ‘O holy night’, but as that beautiful melody swells to a climax and the whole company is on stage, it becomes one of the highlights of the evening.

Almost as much work goes into staging a performance like this as into a full-scale production, and it seems a shame that it is on for so short a time. You can catch it at 2.00, 5.00 or 8.00 on Saturday 3 December.