Review: The Best Christmas Present in the World at Nuffield Playing Field, Southampton

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4 stars

 

It may not seem the best time to watch a Christmas themed performance in the middle of August but Nuffiled Youth Theatre’s production of The Best Christmas Present in the World directed by Max Lindsay did not disappoint at all.

Gusts of wind and drizzles of rain that night added some bleakness to the pop up venue at the Guildhall Square. Built for the ‘Art at the Heart’ festival, which celebrates the 50th anniversaries of both Nuffield and the City of Southampton, Nuffield Playing Field is an unique venue for a theatre experience. Unlike traditional theatres which audiences tend to only see one side of the stage, Nuffield Playing Field provides a view from both north and south side of the stands.

The play was very cleverly adapted from War Horse author Michael Morpurgo’s short story and re-written by writer Oliver Birch, you would not realise at first how a clue of the story has been given away with the performance’s programme. The story is a simple, heartfelt tribute to those who were at war during World War I, giving insights that are still applicable till this day, about the small acts of trust, kindness and love.

Actors may be young but are all brilliant and promising; playing characters of a extensive range of age, they still managed to portray each one of it very well. Their acting made the whole performance very engaging and enjoyable, audiences were constantly chuckling or wiping away touching tears. The Best Christmas Present in the World is the right mix of poignant and joy; expressing the dichotomy in timeline, between two countries at war, and between different stages of life. All the lines and sentiments are all executed and handled very nicely by the bright actors. It is an absolute delight to see actors in their tender age put on such a memorable performance. When the cast are dancing to Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas’as elderly in nursing homes, the warmth beamed from their aura almost make it very believable it could be festive time in such a cold night.

How exposed the stage is has accentuated the excellent performance the cast put on for audiences to see from both sides of the tiered stand. You cannot hide, being so close to the audience, but there was nothing to be hidden, definitely not with their shining skills. The costumes are another highlight of the performance, they not only fitted the characters of different timelines, the well thought use of the muslin cloth veil also has been a good tool to help create stillness or melancholy when needed be.

If the production managed to provide such an impressive Christmas themed performance in the middle of the summer, by any chance it gets a re-run during the actual festive time it is surely going to be an even greater hit.

Thoroughly enjoyable! Satisfaction is guaranteed, a great piece of work.

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