Review: The Tinder Box, by Julian Harries and Pat Whymark, Common Ground Theatre Company, Seckford Theatre until December 20 and on tour until January 10 2015

The Tinder Box, adapted by Julian Harries & Pat Whymark, Common Ground theatre company's Christmas S

The Tinder Box, adapted by Julian Harries & Pat Whymark, Common Ground theatre company's Christmas Show featuring Charles Davies, Lorna Garside and Julian Harries - Credit: Archant

Those magicians of Christmas entertainment Julian Harries and Pat Whymark, not content with writing and directing a winning Eastern Angles Christmas show this year, have decided to create a second sensational seasonal treat The Tinder Box for their own theatre company Common Ground.

The Tinder Box, adapted by Julian Harries & Pat Whymark, Common Ground theatre company's Christmas S

The Tinder Box, adapted by Julian Harries & Pat Whymark, Common Ground theatre company's Christmas Show featuring Charles Davies, Tracy Elster, Lorna Garside and Julian Harries - Credit: Archant

Loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson story, the original plot provides the pair with a springboard for their own brand of inspired silliness and creative madness.

It’s a cracking show which makes a virtue of the small scale production by having the four cast members play multiple roles and filling other key parts with a menagerie of canine puppets. If you loved Mrs Giblets in The Master of Mayhem several years ago then this is the show for you.

Not to be upstaged by a puppet, one of Harries’ brilliant characters is a French poodle called Jean-Paul Gaultier which comes with a bouffant wig, illuminated glasses and a gloriously bizarre French accent.

But, this is not a one man show. Pat Whymark, as director keeps the action zipping along, while as musician and composer supplies some of her distinctively catchy comic songs which not only add to the silliness but also inform the plot.

The Tinder Box, adapted by Julian Harries & Pat Whymark, Common Ground theatre company's Christmas S

The Tinder Box, adapted by Julian Harries & Pat Whymark, Common Ground theatre company's Christmas Show featuring Lorna Garside - Credit: Archant


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The story follows the fortunes of a penniless soldier who is persuaded by a witch in the wood to fetch bags of gold and a Tinder Box from inside a giant hollow tree. As you would expect no good comes of all this. Along the way we meet a zombie princess, a female executioner, a widowed innkeeper and a regal pair who are definitely on their uppers.

Charles Davies makes a narcissistically dim soldier and provides the link with the audience. Tracey Elster is terrific as the Witch, the Queen and the duplicitous innkeeper and Lorna Garside, fast becoming a Common Ground regular, is hugely entertaining as the zombie princess, the blood-thirsty royal executioner and Little Hans who has a passion for sausage.

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As with any Harries and Whymark show the madness works because everyone shares the same offbeat sense of humour and it’s a genuine team effort.

If you fancy seeing something other than a panto this Christmas, catch The Tinder Box in Walton, near Felixstowe, Aldeburgh, or New Wolsey Studio, you won’t be disappointed.

Andrew Clarke

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