Arts / Kirsty’s heart-warming, local Christmas ‘Miracle’

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Cast members of “Miracle on 34th Street, Canberra”, from left, Sophie Kelly, Lilia Wilson, Mischa Lopez, Cliff White (centre, as Kris Kringle), Rosie Welling, Zahra Zulkapli and Zacharie Zulkapli. Photo and cover by Greg Gould.

WHEN it comes to reliable, heart-warming Christmas theatrical fair, it’s hard to go past “Miracle on 34th Street”.

The 1947 triple-Oscar-winning film centred on an elderly man who takes a temporary job as a Santa Claus (Kris Kringle) actor after his predecessor, Bad Santa, is fired.

The children love him and he inspires everyone to believe in the magic of Christmas, but his belief that he is really Santa Claus leads to the assumption that he is insane and a consequent court hearing.

Now Canberra director and drama teacher, Kirsty Budding, is staging her own twist on the story, “Miracle on 34th Street, Canberra”.

Not only does it give her cast of mostly children a wonderful range of characters to play, from a newsreader to an elf, but she’s directing it with double casts so that all the kids get a chance to perform.

Budding’s play presents an Australian slant on the American film and book, with the story now set in Canberra.

“It’s the same general structure but it’s got lots of opportunities for jokes with a local setting,” she says.

“The Santa figure works at the Canberra Centre and ends up before a judge in the High Court.”

As with the original, she says, her version expresses the spirit of Christmas.

“The play has a sense of bringing people together so that they can be optimistic in the face of cynicism,” she says.

But she’s written it in such a way that children can understand it, with lots of physical comedy but also with a subtext that adults will understand.

“I think I can say it will appeal to the whole family – adults and children, everyone together,” she says.

Budding reports that she’s kept the American name Kris Kringle because she didn’t want to mess with an icon.

She had a real find in mature-age actor Cliff White, whom she’d met a couple of years ago during a “Crash Test Drama” project. He and his wife Joan have since joined in many of her stage ventures.

“The kids love working with Cliff,” she says, “just as they should with a character who captivates the children to believe in the magic of Christmas.”

Budding is the director and assistant director Matilda Saddington deals with movement, but White has the age and clout to act as a mentor to the kids during rehearsal.

In what’s becoming an annual tradition, Budding has hired the Courtyard Studio at the Canberra Theatre Centre for a packed three days comprised of six performances of “Miracle”, a short season of her own silly Christmas comedy scripts written for adults and one-off charity variety show “Under The Mistletoe”.

Comedienne Maddy Weeks will introduce local musicians, comedians, dancers and theatre performers of all ages. Saddington, for instance will perform the skit, “Mrs Claus Dumps Santa”, while Linda Bakewell will play “Christmas makes me cry: a retrospective”.

As for Budding’s own silly plays, she is proud to call them “wild”. One, the political satire “Mean Girls Australia”, sees leaders such as Barnaby, Malcolm and Tony dressed up like the characters from the 2004 American cult comedy “Mean Girls”.

“Miracle On 34th Street Canberra”, 10am, noon and 2pm, December 15-16; Short festive comedies for adults, 8pm, December 14-15; and “Under the Mistletoe”, charity variety show, 6pm, December 15. All at Courtyard Theatre, book at 6275 2700.

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Helen Musa
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