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Fir the love of Christmas

Christmas stripped back to basics thanks to The Moomins – a family of pantless marshmallow trolls who are utterly clueless, just like the rest of us.

Photo: Luminous

Let the Muddy Christmas cultural escapades commence. First up, The Fir Tree at Norden Farm in Maidenhead. For a family that’s nearly 70 years old The Moomins are looking as youthful as Noel Edmunds in a vest.

These cute pantless white marshmallow trolls were first created by Swedish-Finnish writer and artist Trove Jansson back in the 1950s, and they’re staging a comeback. Over the last few years, London’s Southbank Centre staged an enormously successful exhibition, Adventures in Moominland; the books have been republished; a TV animation of the stories is in the pipeline, with voiceovers from Kate Winslet and Rosamund Pike – and now Maidenhead’s 40-date live show of The Fir Tree.

Photo: Luminous

Norden Farm’s festive show, usually based on a lesser known picture book, uses puppetry and music to create  a calm performance – the antithesis of panto bedlam – so it’s perfect for younger children, first time theatregoers or anyone who prefers the a more laidback experience.

What’s it all about? A simple selfless Christmas. A what? I hear you cry. This is Christmas as pure as the snow-covered Moominvalley before we were all corrupted by Black Friday deals and social media envy. Who knew that the marshmallows would shame me into rethinking my current state of hysteria? But it did. While the sugar-high kids were going mad for Moomintroll’s icy escapades in pursuit of Christmas, the grown ups were recognising a little of themselves in the panicked neighbours who were rushing around like loons but sucking the joy out of the season to be jolly.

Disturbed from their hibernation the Moomins are told to prepare for Christmas – feared to be a mysterious guest that’s hard to please. First they need a fir tree… for protection. It needs to be dressed – perhaps in a velvet jacket and trousers (nicely on trend) or perhaps a LBD? Then you need to provide a feast and let’s not forget the presents. ‘The list just gets longer,’ the neighbour complains. And more expensive, in my experience. But the Moomins cautious approach to the festivities results in something quite simple and selfless. Focussing on the giving and not asking for anything in return. Tell that to my kids.

That vibe wouldn’t fly in my household, sadly. But for 60 minutes, it was nice to be reminded that Christmas is not a hungry monster that needs to be fed on a diet of gaming consoles, organic Norfolk bronzed turkey, a giant spruce wearing all the accessories while the family hang out without so much as a cross word, let alone a full meltdown.

Photo: Luminous

I must confess I didn’t know the story beforehand, but scriptwriter Bernadette Russell (she’s created work for the National Theatre, Southbank Centre and BFI, to name a few) has developed a story that has humour, warm and fuzzy aplenty and a nod to the frazzled mums and dads out there trying to conjure up Christmas magic. It’s was beautifully staged as always, and a clever use of lighting and an imaginative animated screen helped bring light and shade to the production.

Props to the actors and puppeteers Ceri Ashcroft (Moomintroll), Jonathan Storey (Moominpapa) and Karina Garnett (Moominmamma) who were incredibly skilful bringing the family to life. Their singing voices were also very good and they seamlessly moved around the set without tripping over each other.

Remind yourself what Christmas is supposed to be about, hope the kids will stop leaving wish lists around the house and coast towards December 25 for what is a pimped up roast and a family get together. Just don’t forget the presents.

The Fir Tree, Norden Farm Maidenhead is on until Sunday 30 December.

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