Norma Cohen sees Christmas shows in London
Polka Theatre's Puss in Boots restores Perrault's tale to 17th century peasant France. Louis XlV-type periwigs jostle with Spike Milligan rustics.
Littered with "bonne chances" (duels), "bons appetits" (feasts), "bonjours" and other "je ne sais quois", the plot mines a richly-textured vein of fantasy in its quest to solve the mysteries of a stuck mill-wheel, rheumatic hermit and insomniac ghouls.
And another thing. Insatiable Monsieur Ogre needs a wife. If Moli re could have invented him, he'd be Le Gourmande. Instead, Peter Sowerbutts creates a grandiose figure of fun, listening to his body whistles and gurgles and tenderly cradling a baguette (draped bridal-style with his hankie) before devouring it.
As heroic Puss (doubling as Villain One), Dale Superville bounds magnetically, punctuating his cat speech with elongated purrs. Alex Bunn's shuttered, sliding set resembles a toy theatre through which a tiny, endearing bird flits.
Highlighting its zesty, comic-serious appeal, Vicky Ireland's direction makes the most of Philip Pullman's pithy script, pitched perfectly for all over six. Andrew Dodge's music, bright timbrels and bagpipes, is uplifting.
A new broom has swept through the Unicorn Theatre for Children, bringing a blast of northern zest to Cinderella. Out go Perrault's pumpkins and white mice. In stalk raucous, post-modern types teetering on orange stacks, a turbanned king boogying in a kilt, a dog that relieves himself into the cake mix (much sniggering) and a shoe that explodes in a wok.
Fresh from Tag Theatre Company, Glasgow, new artistic director Tony Graham has upended Cinderella in Stuart Paterson's garish spoof where Rocky Horror meets EastEnders and Cinders goes off with her below-stairs buddy Callum, not the Prince.
Soutra Gilmour dispenses with regal sets in favour of sky projections on which bird cages gleam. Raw energy vibrates from Robert Vestey's wild boy Callum, Lisa Harley and Annie Sutton's brash 'n' brilliant sisters, Paul Courtenay Hyu's dog and a jangling army of kitchen drones. The show is best when it's irreverent rather than poetic. Cut-up styles jostle like the querulous sisters, and like the disturbed cake itself, can sometimes prove indigestible.
In Theatre Royal, Stratford East's Hansel and Gretel with a Latin lilt, Jenny Tiramani's banana-fronded jungle is the star. Its huge, unearthly creepers conjure a mythical Everyforest. White rabbits, a mangy crow and stuffed squirrel puppets cling to the tree trunks. The giant, slithering crocodile galumphing down a 20-foot tree is a coup de theatre.
The hapless band of characters badly in search of a director punctuate the shrieks with a line or two when they can. Giving a new spin to stepmother Obnoxia's line, "Revolting children they're everywhere," the audience directs the show, clapping along.
As the haughtily-wimpled Obnoxia, Michael Bertenshaw is given the best jokes by writer Patrick Prior. His sardonic therapy-speak hits rattled nerves: "It's typical of children. They won't even co-operate in their own abandonment. "
Puss in Boots: Polka Theatre (0181 543 4888) till February 7; Cinderella: Unicorn Arts Theatre (0171 836 33342132) until January 17; Hansel and Gretel: Theatre Royal, Stratford East (0181 534 0310) until January 24 * More reviews next week