...........and it has been for twenty seven years.
The St Andrews Players Christmas warm up in Luton has been doing its stuff, on and off, for twenty seven years and I reckon I have seen most of them. It isn’t great theatre, it isn’t meant to be, but that is hardly surprising. The players generally put it all together in a few days after their autumn production. But it is great entertainment and, more importantly, it’s our first real taste of the forthcoming festivities. It gives off a wholesome glow you could warm your feet on. I value such glows and in the one year I was deprived of their carols, festive songs, and readings, I stuck in my interfering oar. I face the household preparations of stuffing turkeys and hanging baubles much better if I have had my annual fix of ‘Follow the Star’ and ‘Sleigh Ride’. And it ain’t just me. Over the years I have dragged a variety of people along to it, old friends, new friends, neighbours and relatives. And they all come away with that warm glow of which I am so fond.
It has gone through a few changes. In the early days we used to sit around tables and sup wine and dive into nibbles in a church hall. Nowadays it all takes place in the church and we sit in pews. I worried at first that it might lose its easy charm and become too similar to the many church events that take place in December. I love a carol service as much as the next man but I like the St Andrews Players difference. There is something a bit special about singing ‘Hark the Herald’ and then sitting back as the performers stuff Santa and his ilk up a chimney. And what we like most, and there were a lot of us last Saturday night, is the things that rarely change. Nothing pleases like an old pair of comfy slippers and the familiar and oft repeated will generally score over the new. Oh all right, I admit that the wassailing song does nothing for me but then some folks, weird as they are, don’t like Sleigh Ride. There is no accounting for taste. But we love the Silent Nights and the Bleak Midwinters, the Dreaming of a White Christmas and the one that tells you all to Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas. Whoever gets the nod to sing that one, and they are usually good, I get very emotional. And critics being emotional are about as rare as a nine pound note. And we pew sitters all love doing our bit for the Twelve Days of Christmas. Personally I prefer being a lord a leaping to a turtle dove as you don’t have to get up so much. But we all, young and old, jump up and down with innocent abandon. You don’t generally get much of that in Luton.
Like all such events it has its serious side. It gives players who rarely get a chance to lead in major productions the opportunity to have their own five minutes, and it often showcases a new young talent yet to tread the boards in earnest. The critic in me, the unemotional one undisturbed by warm glows, has honed in on more than one teenage stunner over the years. I suppose I should rephrase that but I think you get my drift. And that drift is that this annual event, twenty seven years strong, with its silly five minute pantomimes and a chairman who always misses the entrance of Father Christmas is an occasion I unashamedly pin my colours to. The Mills Family, and there are a lot of them, do themselves and us proud. I reckon there were over two hundred warm glows around Denbigh last weekend, many hugging old friends. Early frosts and economic glooms got short shrift. Long may Christmas is a Coming survive. There are probably, in small villages and humble towns, hundreds of such events all over the country. They are the unrecorded tiny blessings of a celebrity obsessed and media driven culture. And if they are half as entertaining as our St Andrews offering then Christmas will be good. Even if you don’t like Sleigh Ride.