We received tickets to Santa’s Wish in exchange for this review
What a lovely, magical and enchanting evening we had watching Santa’s Wish at the Spiegeltent at Cardiff Castle.
The new festive family musical opened as part of Cardiff Castle Christmas Festival at the end of last week and runs until 31 December. I’s a lovely production full of stunning performances, with some heartfelt messages that will stay with you long after the show has finished. Plus there’s a wonderful back story of how the production made it to the stage too.
Santa’s Wish started life during the pandemic when Laura Brind, director of Vale Academy of Performing Arts, had the idea for a piece of ‘doorstep theatre’. She wanted to spread some joy and cheer to the community during lockdown as we all faced a Christmas of staying at home. And so, along with her husband Matthew, a composer, arranger and conductor who has worked with some of the world’s biggest arts and music organisations, they devised a short festive show called A Christmas Visit, which they could take to people’s front doors and perform socially distanced.
Two years on and they have developed the idea into Santa’s Wish, a family musical of around 80 minutes in length, which is playing for a whole month in the beautiful Spiegeltent venue at Cardiff Castle. Audiences seem to be loving the show so far, and it has proved so popular with pre-sales that 16 additional dates have recently been added.
The Spiegeltent, where the performance takes place, adds much to the charm of this production. Translating as ‘magic mirrors’, it is a hand-hewn pavilion, dating back to the late 1800s when it was used as a travelling dance hall across Europe. One of only a handful left in the world, this one is called The Fortuna. Sumptuous red velvet fabric forms the circus style dome ceiling, glitterballs dangle from the ceiling, their lights reflecting on the cut mirrors that sit behind the booths along the edges of the venue.
Located in the grounds of Cardiff Castle, next to the ice skating rink of Winter Wonderland, and surrounded by twinkling lights and the smell of donuts and hot chocolates, the velvet red tent feels so very decadent with the thousands of mirrors and coloured glass creating a really special atmosphere.
Seating a cosy 548, and with the stage jutting out into the audience catwalk style, and the cast often walking around the auditorium, you find yourself fully immersed into the performance.
That said, even without the gorgeous venue there is plenty for all ages to enjoy.
With Santa’s sleigh having crashed in Cardiff Castle, we are introduced to his team of elves and the scene is set for the endearing tale of how Snowflake – who was once an actual snow flake – found herself a part of Santa’s team. Landing on the edge of a warming ice cap, Snowflake starts to melt and finds herself on an extraordinary journey around the world, trying to make it back to the North Pole and to reach Santa Claus. Her fellow elves and Santa play the various characters who she meets along the way.
The musical features a host of new and catchy songs, with emotive ballads, upbeat pop ditties, samba-inspired colourful numbers, even a spot of rap music, and a few numbers where the audience are encouraged to join in too.
Snowflake is played by Cardiff-born Millie Davies, who looks so delightful in her frosted white dress, and has an absolutely stunning singing voice. Welsh TV and stage star Dyfrig Morris is a kind and caring Santa, while Richie Gooding provides a good dose of humour as rapping elf Crackers. Keely Edwards – a fully trained aerialist and acrobat – adds a whole new dimension to the show with her daring stunts as Jingle, and Naomi Katiyo is an endearing Tinsel, with some lovely vocal moments of her own.
My one criticism is that the plot sees a few too many threads tangled together, which can get a little confusing. However, the underlying messages of looking after the planet, the difference that little acts of kindness can make, and finding a sense of belonging, are important themes that shine through.
Overall though, this delightful show is a great addition to the Cardiff Christmas theatre scene and I hope this won’t be the last we see from its creators.
Laura Brind as writer, lyricist, codirector and costume designer and Matthew as composer and director prove to be a formidable creative team, turning their pandemic project into a sell-out Christmas success. I can’t wait to see what these two come up with next, not to mention how Cardiff Castle Christmas Festival, under the guidance of Richard Perry and John Manders of Live Under The Stars, continues to grow now that we’ve seen just what a success it has been.
Santa’s Wish is at the Speigeltent, Cardiff Castle until 31 December. See www.thecastle.wales for more information on this, and also on Castellana, the cabaret-style show for audiences aged 16 and above, which runs until 1 January.