Mr Christmas
Cast photo from 'Mr Christmas' featuring Lucy McIlwaine,
Conor Anderson and Ben McDaid. Photo courtesy of Adam Darcy

Adventure, endeavour and invention are front and centre, along with, thankfully, shelter, on a cold, wet and windy night in Belfast's Accidental Theatre as local theatre company The Collaborative Creatives bring their debut production, Mr Christmas, to the stage. For this engaging new musical by Kevin Hammonds and Charles Millar, director and co-star Kerry Rodgers and musical director Adam Darcy have aligned the skills of a lively cast with swiftly choreographed and harmoniously ambitious tunes in a familiar but absorbing narrative.

The rich promise in the premise, highlighted by a powerful opening number fitting of the genuine on-stage symmetry between Rodgers and fellow actors Lucy McIlwaine, Ben McDaid, Conor Anderson, Eimear Burns-Convery and Suzie McNutt, is pleasingly fulfilled. The idea to set the play in New York City is a clever move – similarly to Home Alone 2, the production sharply contrasts attractions and detractions of big city life during the holiday season, where the potential in uplifting activity often comes up against empty, lonely vastness. Though, as it must be in both a play and theatre such as this, the effect comes through in concise, natural conversation rather than expansive projection. And, like the songs, the interplay amongst the characters is smartly integrated into the core of the piece.

The core of Mr Christmas is generally driven by another contrast. With the actors playing multiple roles, we audience members get the opportunity to draw comparisons between the running of a toy department and who will function as "Santa", or the titular "Mr Christmas", during the holidays, and a shelter for the homeless which appears in need of a "Mr Christmas" of their own to rescue it from being transformed into a multiplex cinema. It is, in essence, a race against time either way, but with yet another comparison, this time in motive – between those of unscrupulous individuals and a kind community. And each plot strand, once the cast fully find their rhythm - which, rest assured, doesn't take too long - is hugely compelling, frequently humorous and sporadically heartwarming.

What Mr Christmas truly seems to "get" - and it does this without losing a shred of its entertainment value - is the significance of both Santa Claus and the holiday itself to children, adults and society in the form of beliefs, representations and people. Beliefs as purpose and drive, representations in identities both simplistic and complex, and people who can just as easily be appreciated as, alas, taken advantage of due to their nature. Yet despite these seemingly dark aspects, the production retains positivity by encouraging an open-minded view of Christmas from numerous viewpoints - where crassness and insensitivity can be diluted, if not necessarily vanquished, and where something both warm and revitalising can find its way through. As warm and revitalising, perhaps, as the efforts of Rodgers, Darcy and everyone involved in this clearly triumphant work.

Simon Fallaha

Mr Christmas runs at Belfast's Accidental Theatre until Sunday December 10. For more information, and tickets, click here.