THE Christmas production has arrived at The Watermill, and whilst it might not be a particularly festive show, it's a brilliant alternative to the noise and slapstick of a pantomime.

This is especially so for pre-school children, who might find a pantomime a little overwhelming.

The Prince and the Pauper runs until January 4 at The Watermill, and is suitable for children aged four plus.

I was therefore a little apprehensive about taking my three-year-old son along to an afternoon showing, and wondered if he would sit still and enjoy it.

My fears were put at ease when he barely moved for the entire 55-minute first act, other than to lean his head one side and the other to watch the actors on stage, totally engrossed.

The enchanting adaption of Mark Twain's classic tale has been put to original music.

As is often the case with productions at The Watermill, the multi-talented cast play numerous characters, sing and play their own instruments.

This show was no exception, and the cast of six effortlessly moved between script and song with ease, as well as a variety of different characters.

Hayden Wood played both the King and father Canty - the father of the Prince and the Pauper respectively.

His change in voice and costume helped identify him as two separate people, otherwise it could have been quite confusing for the younger members of the audience to follow.

The story follows two young dreamers with very different lives, but both longing for change.

The Prince is bored of royal life, endless parties and rules.

He hates the grown-ups and wishes he had friends of his own age to play with.

Outside the palace walls in the bustling streets of London, a young girl who loves to play music and dance, dreams of escaping her humble life to perform for the finest people in the city.

When their two worlds collide, the Prince and the Pauper embark on a thrilling adventure beyond their wildest imaginations, switching places and living each other's lives.

The story is carried along by the music, which is almost continuously present throughout.

The songs aren't big, memorable numbers requiring an applause, but they perfectly enhance the storytelling and intertwine with the acting: some gentle melodies and others upbeat, lively numbers.

Instruments also provide visual stimulation for children, and my son was mesmerised watching them being played.

The story itself carries some important messages for the young audience, of dreams, ambition and friendship.

Whilst I think most of this would have been lost on my son, as he was too young to properly follow the story, he could understand some of the dialogue.

His favourite part was when the Prince's dog bounded onto stage.

The boisterous pet was operated as a puppet by one of the cast, which really captured the imagination of the children watching.

The set didn't need to be elaborate or to continuously change, because what was happening on stage kept the audience's attention, and the simple design of the London skyline was all that was needed.

With the actors entering from the back of the auditorium, popping up in turrets and appearing in the circle, there was plenty of variety to keep us intrigued as to what might happen next.

The intimate setting of The Watermill helps children feel part of the story, and engaged in what is happening on stage.

Very often with productions at larger theatres, my son has felt detracted from the show and therefore becomes restless.

Being so close to the actors he remained focused.

During the interval it was lovely to wander around the beautiful grounds of the theatre, look at the ducks and watch the water rushing under the old mill in a glass viewing area.

An ice cream during the second act helped keep my son focused for the shorter 35 minutes that remained of the show, and he only started fidgeting for the final 10 minutes.

However, had he been unable to sit still, the theatre was showing the production in the entrance area outside of the auditorium on a screen, which one parent made use of when his child became noisy. It makes it easier for families with children of different ages who all want to go to the theatre together.

The second act flew by in a flash, and the celebratory happy ending was perfect for a Christmas show aimed at children.

Although The Watermill is a drive from Basingstoke, it's definitely worth it for the brilliant shows they put on there, and The Prince the Pauper is no exception.

It was a magical way to welcome the festive season.

To book tickets, call the box office on 01635 46044.