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The Forest of Forgotten Discos! review at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – ‘energetic and inclusive’

Paislie Reid and Sophie Coward in The Forest of Forgotten Discos! Marcquelle Ward and Sophie Coward in The Forest of Forgotten Discos! Photo: Lee Baxter

On stage and screen, Christmas tends to look a certain way: twinkling tree, glistening turkey, picture-perfect nuclear family. The new seasonal show from Contact and writer Jackie Hagan recognises that, for many audiences, that’s not the reality. For nine-year-old Red, Christmas is just her and her dad, and she likes it that way. When things begin changing, she runs away to the forest – home of forgotten teddy bears, neglected technology and a disco ball that has stopped turning.

The Forest of Forgotten Discos! is meticulously inclusive. It acknowledges families of all shapes and sizes, while its creative signing makes it accessible to D/deaf audiences. And with puns for the grown-ups and fart gags for the kids, Hagan’s script strains to include all the family. Character names like Bear Grills and Bear Minimum raise chuckles from bigger members of the audience, while the little ones are kept involved with dance moves and games.

It’s hard, though, to be everything to everyone. At times, plot and dialogue stray into complexities that may leave younger spectators baffled and fidgety. Narratively and stylistically, meanwhile, the show is a strange mash-up – Toy Story meets teddy bear’s picnic meets disco. Katharine Heath’s colourful set and costumes are similarly eclectic: a peculiar but oddly charming mix of sequins, clashing patterns and repurposed rubbish.

While there’s lots to like, the performance often feels a bit flat, especially early on. But the energy of the cast wins out by the end, leaving both characters and audience boogying under the Christmas lights.

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Contact and Jackie Hagan’s family Christmas show is a festive mash-up with mixed results