Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

The Christmas Elves

Mint Theatre Society

Wylde Green United Reformed Church


I have quite an admiration for Mint, the Bedouins of the theatre world, nomadic thespians with their pop-up productions in the most unlikely venues such as village halls and a club concert room more suited to karaoke than Chekov.

This latest production popped up in a new venue, a church hall which has a stage and tabs, but that is pretty much it, with no wings to speak of, no flies and, perhaps most important when it comes to mood and ambiance, no stage lighting, and, as always, scenery, props and sets that have to fit in the back of a car.

Director Liz Daly has added to Mark Whiteley’s The Christmas Elves and the Shoemaker to create a festive, family morality tale with a charm all of its own, the basic message being it is better to be kind and help people than to be selfish and nasty, and you can’t argue with that . . .

Well, you can actually, or at least Onion can, Onion being the National Union of Elves self-appointed shop steward at Santa’s North Pole workshop who leads a mass walkout when Santa demands longer hours and a doubling of effort to have everything ready for Christmas. . . OK, it’s not quite mass, more a two-man walkout, him and Sage. Sage and Onion . . . get it . . . all right, please yourself.

Sage, played as a sort of reluctant rebel by David Stonehouse, and Onion, played with a rebellious delight by Alex Howell, are the stars of the show, quite a polished double act who starred as Ernest and Algernon in Mint's excellent The Importance of Being Earnest earlier this year.


Wanting just shoes for Christmas. . . Charlotte Ball as Lady Mariah of Carey with her sole-singing backing group, presumably The Shoetttes,  Liz Daly, left shoe, and Ellie Ball right 

They gave us a few standard panto routines such as “I’ll hold the nail and when I nod my head, hit it” and a confusion of making a table with two planks which amused adults but positively brought laughs from children – who sadly were painfully thin on the ground.

A miserable wet day followed by a cold, dark night with the added deterrent of pouring rain are not the best encouragement to pop along to the church hall for a Christmas show you haven’t heard of.

But for those who ventured out it was an evening full of gentle warmth. The shoemaker is Peter, played with the air of one of life’s losers by Ian Toulouse. He is struggling to pay his rent or buy food, all of which is not helped by his inability to make shoes that don’t look like surgical boots from the 1950s – not everything retro comes back into fashion it appears - and then we discover he doesn't really want to be a shoemaker - he wants to be a storyteller.

And that is where Sage and Onion come in, after first fiddling Peter out of his last pair of shoes by out and out trickery – although Peter’s IQ has a few question marks over it after he was conned so easily - the pair find contrition, Onion somewhat reluctantly.

We discover they, or at least Sage, was a top-notch shoemaker, the pair, cobblers you might say, set about secretly helping Peter by knocking up height of fashion footwear while he sleeps.

These are glamour shoes wanted by the likes of Lady Gaga, or, perhaps more accurately, Onion in a frock and a wig who is just about passable as a women if you ignore the beard, he is in complete darkness and he/she is seen from a distance, preferably in a separate room – a sprinkling of festive magic can only do so much.

The shoes are so popular they even attract the attention of Lady Mariah of Carey, played, with legs that go on and on for ever, by Charlotte Ball, Liz Daly’s daughter by the way, who had a festive moment launching into All I Want For Christmas is Shoes . . . (more groans).

With a few trials and tribulations an accommodation is reached with Peter and the elves with Sage and Onion saying stuff it (groan) to their life as gangstas, init, and becoming Peter’s partners, Peter using his new found wealth to help others, as well as selling shoes with stories attached, while Stan Hubbard’s Santa Claus forgives his runaway elves and the entire cast of 13 appear Wishing it Could Be Christmas Every day.

Along the way we run into that well-known busker Nancy Shoenatra, shoes perhaps more appropriate than sin in a family shoe . . . sorry, show. Nancy is played by Liz Daly, who managed to shoe in (puns can be catching) These Boots Were Made For Walking.

Then there was Elfis, played, uh uhn, by David Daly, Liz’s husband, with his blow up guitar, and collection of Elfish Elvis puns and songs . . . and yes, his big number was Blue Suede Shoes . . . could there be  theme here perhaps?


Could you please avoid walking on the blue suede shoes . . .

its Elfis, played by David Daly

And completing the Daly roll call, we open with Ellie Ball, Charlotte’s sister, who is Rocking Around The Christmas Tree and later launches into Happy Feet with a nice bit of tap to show how happy her feet actually were.

That old panto favourite If I were not a . . . in this case Christmas Elf, made an appearance, complete with custard pie in face, and we had enough puns to fill a year’s worth of crackers, while musical interludes were added by Kevin Boyd on the electric Joanna in the corner.

Sadly, a small audience - numbers, not a collection of little people that is - and a dirth of children made it hard work for the cast with a script that needed more bodies to bounce off beyond that fourth wall, and they did remarkably well to give the show some life and fill the hall with enthusiasm . . . and a few sweets, giveaway Christmas decorations for the children and the odd spray of water.

Hopefully the numbers will be swelled when they return to more familiar stomping ground at Shenstone Village Hall on Friday, 29 November and Stonnall Village Hall on Saturday, 30 November.

I long ago realised that the real reviewers of family shows are not the old fogies – like me – but the youngsters, like my grandchildren; my eldest, aged eight, has more than 40 different productions under his belt ranging from the RSC to BRB, so knows what he is talking about. His verdict? He thought it was good, liked the funny bits and, most important, he enjoyed it. And I can’t say fairer than that.

Roger Clarke


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