Nigel and Louise's Basement Grotto
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Screw trying to persuade some old man in a hot department store that you’ve been good this year. There’s a new Christmas grotto in town – and you actually get to travel through a magic portal to the North Pole.
As part of the Shunt performance collective, Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari have made a host of intriguing, immersive, bizarre theatre shows. While ‘Nigel and Louise’s Basement Grotto’ is not a Shunt show, it features more than a little of the group’s glorious weirdness.
It’s a colourful sensory adventure in which kids are encouraged to get involved. The magic portal is all bright fluorescent lights and eerie tinkling music, which we’re led through by a bunch of impossibly upbeat elves, who like cheese sandwiches and say ‘brilliant!’ a lot. We do a little dance, play snowmen statues (musical statues) and then a beautiful, ghostly white puppet Rudolf comes to help us find the napping Father Christmas.
There’s a bit more preamble through some lovingly-designed rooms, but, really, this is all about the grotto. It’s essentially Barrett as Father Crimble sitting in a huge bed covered in pillows in a room with fluffy clouds hanging from the ceiling. He tells us a softly-spoken story filled with delight that had most of the kids on the bed entirely captivated. Presents are handed out – an obvious winner – and Santa switches into an amazing flying jumpsuit to bid us goodbye.
Children of all ages are invited to cross through the portal. The day I saw it, there was a babe-in-arms – who cried and slept at varying intervals – and lots of two to four year-olds. A handful of the young crowd were a little scared to begin with but, egged on by the bravery of the others and the very friendly elves, they soon got-on-board with this wonderful, magical, strangeness.