Miracle On 34th Street
Town & Gown Pub & Theatre, Cambridge
9th December 2021
With Turkey Day fast approaching, theatregoers often find themselves having to choose between numerous pantomimes (not everyone’s cup of tea), or a seemingly infinite number of productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’. But if panto isn’t your thing, and you’re sick of Scrooge and his spooks, there’s an alternative running in Cambridge which might be right up your street. 34th Street, to be exact.
‘Miracle On 34th Street’ is a holiday classic and essential annual viewing for many as they count down the days to Christmas. The timeless story of a kindly man claiming to be the real Santa Claus has been warming hearts for nearly 75 years. The black & white film was turned into a radio broadcast, captivating listeners across the airwaves on 22nd December 1947, which featured the film’s stars reprising their roles for this radio play.
The Town & Gown Pub & Theatre in Cambridge have lovingly recreated the making of this radio play, in their festive show which runs for the next fortnight. Directed by Karl Steele, the show brings 7 performers together (armed with scripts, microphone stands and a myriad of sound-effect-making props) to bring the radio broadcast to life. Interspersed with festive carols, winningly-upbeat jingles and sponsor adverts, the actors tell the story of Kris Kringle, last-minute stand-in for Macy’s Santa Claus, who begins to convince everyone that he just might be the real deal.
As this is a performed radio play, there is little in the way of staging or scenery (in fact, just a Christmas tree and a piano), but this is where the production works; by having little to focus on apart from the actors’ performances, the audience is asked to use their imaginations to colour in the scenes themselves, like having a story read to you as a child. When they’re not speaking, the actors add background noise to the scenes to add context and depth (re-arranging cutlery, closing doors, walking on gravel), and the dialogue runs at a steady pace to carry the audience along with the plot. Sitting with closed eyes, it’s wonderful to imagine how audiences would’ve huddled around the radio together to hear this play in the same way, and the effect is charming.
All actors do a great job, with Sam Carlyle (Doris Walker) and William Spencer (Fred Gailey) doing well as the central romantic couple, achieving chemistry despite always speaking into their front-facing microphones rather than looking at each other. Laura Cove and Anton Tweedale also show terrific range in multiple roles, sometimes switching between characters instantly (notably when Tweedale performs both parts of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, which is a highlight). Accents are also uniformly authentic as well, you really do feel like you’re in New York. Special mention must also go to Kerry Frater, who is fantastic as Kris. He has a wonderful warmth to his voice and kindly chuckle, and you may actually think he’s actually the real Santa Claus as well.
The production lacks the spectacle of other festive shows, which may disappoint some, and younger children may get restless with nothing bright or colourful to look at, but ‘Miracle On 34th Street’ is a heart-warming evening out, and echoes back to a simpler time when storytelling and heart mattered most above all else. To get you in the Christmas mood, the play is a real tonic, and well worth your time.
‘Miracle On 34th Street’ runs at the Town & Gown Pub & Theatre until 24th December 2021
Running time 2 hours 15 minutes including interval