Lambert Puppet Theatre, Dublin ***

Lambert Puppet Theatre’s Christmas offering Sinbad is a refreshingly wholesome piece of children’s entertainment. Where the annual pantomimes thrive on topicality and trendy musical references, the Lambert’s repertoire is timeless. There are a few concessions to popular culture – a reference to Ebay here, a nod to X Factor there – but for the most part you might well be stepping back in time when you walk into the small mews theatre.

For accompanying parents, the time-warp will be enhanced by the presence of Mr Crow, the avian cynic from Wanderly Wagon, who acts as compere and starts proceedings with an interactive tease that primes the audience for plenty of ear-shattering he’s behind yous. When Sinbad begins, meanwhile, the aesthetic is more circus side-show than art-theatre – think crude Punch and Judy rather than mannered marionette. Flat-painted sets are another gesture to tradition, and special effects (a raging storm, a magic explosion) are almost illusion-free.

For young audiences, however, this adds to the experience: will they be able to reproduce rolling waves with a bed-sheet at home? The telling of the fairytale narrative is simple and the script moves the story along swiftly. Sinbad and his princess are pitched against the evil Blackheart and his snappy side-kick Croc, with inevitable results; there is no need for a sub-plot here.

The stand-out underwater scene, however, is one of the few non-verbal sequences, as a shipwrecked Sinbad sinks to the bottom of the sea to battle an octopus and a shark, two of the show’s most impressive puppets. There are a couple of original songs too, although they are less a narrative aid than a mood setter.

Here, the theatre was full to capacity, with children from one to 10 vocal in their appreciation for the show. If the commercial pantomime, with its day-glo costumes and synthesised music, leaves you cold, Lambert’s more traditional endeavour makes for a welcome, if no less noisy, antidote.

Until January 27th
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