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REVIEW: Father Frost by Corkscrew Theatre at Cambridge Town and Gown

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Father Frost, a musical based on a traditional Russian folk tale, is cleverly written, artfully acted and beautifully sung.

After all the sugar and schmaltz of your usual Christmas stories, this one is delightfully refreshing. The characterisation is superb.

Father Frost is at the Town and Gown Pub Theatre Cambridge until Friday, December 30.

Life is hard, says one of the songs: “No joy, no laughter, no happy ever after.” No false promises here then – no one is told to follow their dream and become a rock star. But here is masterclass in performance.

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The Town and Gown pub audience in Cambridge absolutely loved it.

Yes, the opening is grim. Two baby girls are left each without one of their parents. A mother dies in childbirth, a father-to-be is killed in the forest.

I was reminded of that line in the George Gershwin song: “With love to lead the way, I’ve seen more clouds of grey than any Russian play could guarantee.”  Though I have to say, the show’s song Life is Miserable was sung with great joy.

The two widowed parents get together and this provides us with a wicked stepmother Olya (a really mean and cruel Charlotte Touboulic – I loved her cynical sneers when the others were speaking (and the twisted mouth).

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Olya’s hapless second husband, the over-pliant, not to say craven, Pavel, is played by Benedict Gibson, who nailed the character’s well-meaning cowardice. His daughter is the kind-hearted Alina (played and sung engagingly by Holly Masters). Heartless Olya’s daughter is of course heartless Tatyana.

Father Frost is at the Town and Gown Pub Theatre Cambridge until Friday, December 30.

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It’s hereditary. Great Tatyana tantrums from Sophie McMahon, who also co-wrote the piece.

It’s a kind of Cinderella story. Alina is a drudge, and her goodness is exploited by her family – but our heroine’s fate is changed when having been cast out into the forest, she meets not a fairy godmother but a man she describes as “A magical, mystical, wizard of winter.” He is Father Frost played majestically by Will Males, who is also the story’s narrator.

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There is an inspired performance too from Nicholas Alexander as puppet master and voice of the dog Max, Alina’s faithful friend.

Written by actor Sophie McMahon and musician Geoff Page, who also wrote the songs and plays the piano throughout, the show is directed by Lesley Ford, with subtle lighting by David John.

This skilfully choreographed production by Corkscrew Theatre is compelling, amusing and uplifting.

There is a twist near the end which I really didn’t see coming.

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Anyone can be unhappy, goes one of the songs –that’s easy to do it says but it’s so much better to count your blessings. This show is one of them.

It’s a sparking gem.

Father Frost is at the Town and Gown Pub Theatre Cambridge until Friday, December 30.

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