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Ring a Ding Ding at the Unicorn, SE1

Sooty has returned
Sooty has returned

Ring a Ding Ding

Fairy Tales

Santa Claus and the Christmas Adventure

Sooty Christmas Show

We stick on our funny hats, ring a bell, and sit on benches around a circular performance area in the centre of the room. This is the world of Oily Cart, who have been making shows for young children for 30 years now. Ring a Ding Ding, suitable for three to six-year-olds, is a fresh vindication of their immersive, sensory approach.


There are several shows in London suitable for this age group. But there’s something special about the intimacy of Ring a Ding Ding. It’s a story about going round in circles. We trees and houses are spinning round the revolving tabletop. The characters are represented both by the performers and by handheld puppets. Alice’s dog has run off and runs circles around everyone chasing him as he rides a motorbike and a motorboat and goes to the Moon.

It’s beautifully done, with a design by Claire de Loon (a nom de plume?) that uses recycled material: you can see the markings of an old vegetable oil can on the side of the Sea Captain’s ship.

It stays the right side of preciousness with its wit, its percussive music and the moments when we all get up to walk or dance around in a big circle. It’s a bit long at an hour, even with the punctuation of audience participation. But this is an inventive and involving job by the writer and director Tim Webb and his friendly, versatile cast.

My three-year-old loved it, but she also enjoyed the low-theatre approach of Red Table Theatre’s retelling of some of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales (at the Pleasance, N1) — and strictly speaking for ages four and over). With some changes in costume, the odd bit of puppetry and a few bursts into Danish song, the cast of four make these tales come to life.

You won’t find that sort of handmade charm at Santa Claus and the Christmas Adventure (at the Ambassadors, WC2, also at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, and the Epsom Playhouse). But this more commercial pop-up pantomime does a decent job for the lower half of its advertised age range of two to eight. They get some serviceable slapstick, some nice singsongs and a pressie from Santa, who also performs some good tricks devised by Paul Daniels.

If you haven’t followed Sooty’s return to television on ITV, a pre-recorded Matthew Corbett at the start of the Sooty Christmas Show (at the Garrick, WC2) introduces us to “Sooty’s new right-hand man, Richard Cadell”. Cadell does a fine job of reviving the yellow bear (first seen in 1948), using his background in magic to pepper his farcical interplay with his puppet friends with some ingenious visual gags. “What?” he says, leaning his ear towards Sooty. “The mums and dads seem more pleased to see you than the boys and girls?” Not in the case of my girl, who shrieked with delight when impish Sweep and sensible Soo first appeared. There are one or two wobbles, but this is a lively hour that doesn’t only trade on nostalgia.

Ring a Ding Ding box office: 020-7645 0560, to Dec 30. Then: Mold, Stirling, Canterbury, Coventry and Chichester