Christmas in the Sunshine review – a jolly holiday of a show

Here’s a new play with so many fun ideas that, like the suitcase centre-stage, it’s almost bursting. Scuba gear and toys are crammed in for Elias and his mum’s trip to Jamaica, where Grandad is spending his first Christmas without Grandma. Montego Bay will be an adventure but will Santa know where Elias is? That particularly fraught festive combo of excitement and apprehension is immediately established for playwright Yasmin Joseph’s characters, including Elias’s unseen dad who will be home alone in Stockwell.

Amelia Jane Hankin’s dynamic set design, with a stripes and slats theme, transports us from airport to plane – where we become fellow passengers – and on to Grandad’s veranda. Ola Ince’s pacy production, for audiences aged three to six, opens with a dialogue-free sequence before exploding with cartoonish flourishes and zany ear-popping effects (sound design by Ed Lewis). Simeon Miller’s lighting evokes not just the Jamaican temperature and the winter wonderland of the colourful Mo-Bay market but also the warmth within this reconnected family.

Ishmel Bridgeman displays Elias’s clutter of emotions, veering from cheeky to nervous, adding a supreme sense of childhood outrage: “We can’t wear our fluffy pyjamas,” he declares with horror about the Jamaican heat. Leona Allen shows a mum trying to take care, teach and make it all fun despite her fading energy levels – a recognisable mixture for any parent. The multi-roling Derek Elroy gives us a Granddad in the midst of sadness and joy and a goggle-wearing, party-starting lizard.

The physical comedy is well choreographed by Ricardo Da Silva, from hairy car rides to encounters with mosquitoes, although the production could gain from dwelling even longer on some of the family’s painful emotions. But, propelled by Duramaney Kamara’s rich compositions, it’s a jolly holiday of a show, celebrating the Caribbean’s Junkanoo festival traditions and the joy of leaving Santa a mango rather than a mince pie.

• At the Unicorn theatre, London, until 31 December.