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Can’t Wait for Christmas! review at Orange Tree Theatre, London – ‘a celebration of play’

Iniki Mariano in Can't Wait for Christmas at Orange Tree Theatre, London

Jessie, the little girl protagonist of Can’t Wait for Christmas! has been given a tempting-looking present by her dad. The trouble is, she’s not allowed to open it until the big day, and added to that, she’s no option but to play by herself because her dad has to work.

Fortunately, he’s thought ahead, turning the house into a real-life advent calendar, with something exciting to find for every day of Jessie’s long wait. The impatience, curiosity, joy and imagination with which she goes about discovering and making the most of these daily gifts is infectious, and the month of December flies by.

With Andre Refig as Dad off stage for all but the opening and closing scenes, ably playing co-creator and composer Tarek Merchant’s carol-flavoured live score on piano and percussion, Iniki Mariano’s Jessie must carry the simple narrative alone. She does a fine job of it, demonstrating an immediate rapport with her enthusiast young audience, making Jessie into a highly relatable figure with whom the children clearly feel at their ease during the show’s smattering of interactive moments.

Dialogue is limited enough and the story simple enough that this world premiere is as entertaining for toddlers as is it for the children at the upper end of the quite wide recommended age range (3-10), a feat achieved by very few theatremakers.

Sasha Tanvi Mani’s design is central to the narrative and more than delivers. It’s a mostly low-tech concept, with items of clothing and household objects magically brought to life through play, Merchant’s score adding atmosphere throughout.

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A celebration of imaginative play with a carol-flavoured live score