This year Cardiff Castle is playing host to a spectacular new entertainment attraction being staged inside the grounds, offering new Christmas shows, all performed in the round, in the intimacy of a 570-seat Spiegeltent. Emma Schofield went along for a look at brand-new family musical, Santa’s Wish.
We should probably start with the facts, I love Christmas. There we are, I can breathe a sigh of relief now I’ve got that off my chest; the trees, the lights, the fact that it’s totally acceptable to eat your way through a box of mince pies in a single sitting – all of it’s great. What isn’t so great, is trying to find something new or different to do each time it rolls back around. Every year we play the same dozen or so Christmas songs that we all already know the words to, we watch the same films, we attend new versions of the same shows and we all go along with it because it’s tradition and that’s, well, just what we do. But sometimes it’s nice to break up all that tradition with something different. So when the invite to a brand-new Christmas musical for families landed in my inbox, it was almost impossible to say no.
Santa’s Wish is the new Christmas musical taking place in the Spiegeltent in as part of the Christmas Festival in Cardiff Castle. Created as a show for families, the play has been written specifically for the Festival by Matthew Brind and Laura Brind and features a cast including Dyfrig Morris in the role of Santa, with Millie Davies as Snowflake. I took my five year old along and we went early enough to wander around the castle grounds first, enjoying the lights and the general Christmas vibe. Once you get inside, the Spiegeltent itself makes for a wonderful venue. Round, atmospheric and with a décor that hits just the right balance of cosy and cabaret, it’s packed with mirrored doors, wooden features and velvet brocade. For Santa’s Wish, the tent was packed with families but it’s easy to imagine it working as a very different kind of setting for the Festival’s other show, Castellana, a show which combines music, magic, burlesque and acrobatics.
The Speigeltent setting means that the stage can extend out into the centre of the tent, so most of the action takes place in the round, meaning visibility is pretty good from wherever you’re sitting. As we took our seats we could see Santa’s sleigh on the stage and the Christmas music playing in the background was regularly interrupted by bulletins from ‘North Pole Radio’, which was useful in terms of keeping excitable younger audience members entertained while they waited for the show to start. Once underway, the action focuses on a group of enthusiastic elves who, having accidentally crashed Santa’s sleigh, sing, dance and cartwheel their way through a plan to make their way back to the North Pole and save Christmas.
If I had a minor quibble with the show it would be that the plot was, at times, a little convoluted. Things could have been simplified a little, without losing any of the overall effect. Towards the latter stages, the focus shifted very much to quite a heavily environmental message, with the need to care for our planet and protect it for future generations reiterated strongly. While this is no doubt poignant and timely, I’m not sure it needed to be stated quite as overtly. The show’s target audience are, arguably, one of the most switched-on about the need to protect the environment. My five year old automatically recycles whatever she can when she goes to put rubbish in the bin and that age group are well-used to singing songs, reading stories and designing posters that centre on what can be done to look after the world around them. They don’t need to be convinced of the importance of doing that, they’re already a converted audience.
Nonetheless, there was a rapt audience from the start. By the time Santa appeared about 10 minutes into the performance the excitement in the room was palpable. The acrobatics made for a mesmerizing addition to the show, which had little heads captivated as they turned their gaze to where a series of aerial tricks and acrobatics were being used to mimic the flight of a snowflake through a starry sky. Elves skipping out into the aisles to dance and sing made a lovely addition and meant that there was always something to see. There was colour and music everywhere and, by the end, everyone was on their feet and dancing, bringing the Spiegeltent to life.
We left with smiles on our faces after around an hour and ten minutes of Christmas joy, warmth and catchy songs, a few of which we were still humming the next day. If you’re going, be prepared to enjoy this for what it is, a performance filled with an unapologetic celebration of Christmas and the need for kindness, both to others and our world. It’s a little burst of festive joy and a refreshing change to be able to enjoy something new and Christmassy together.
Santa’s Wish plays throughout Christmas, with shows running until 31st December. Ticket information is available here.