by Anthony Neilson music by Nick Powell..
Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 15 January 2011.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 December.
Season’s greetings grate in view of Christmas that’s more poison ivy than mistletoe.
Despite the exclamatory title, this is no dashing-through-the-snow Christmas adventure. Nor is it a knowingly camp comedy. Anthony Neilson’s play gives Christmas with the (middle-class, White, English, somewhat nuclear) family the Groundhog Day treatment, though as the characters go through apparently endless, end-on repetitions of December 25, they are fully aware, and increasingly weary of, the loop in which they live. Same turkey, same presents, same (re)wrapping paper.
And, with Christmas, as conventional wisdom has it, being about ‘the children’ there’s a 10-year old, Holly, at the centre of this gift-wrapped production. Her wish to find her missing father runs through the complexities of absurd events as a pointer to a deeper human need within the modern flummery of the family Christmas.
The deep red décor makes the stage seem like a Christmas present, while also being oppressive, especially as characters often move with bland unawareness: grey lives amid the high-coloured walls. But the knotted ribbon tying it all up slips away as the play begins, and Imogen Doel’s Holly tells the audience, with a simple and forceful directness, what she is looking for.
As Nielson gives a potentially straightforward, if fantastical, story curve-ball oddities – several involving the blurred borderline between human and animal (with the bonus of some comic animatronics) – Nick Powell’s music emphasises the season’s repetitious domestic rituals with saccharine vocal lines, giving the aural equivalent of a plastic autopilot smile.
In contrast to this, and as rebuttal to the musical sentiment of “I wish it could be Christmas every day” pumped through the auditorium amplifiers, is Holly’s encounter with a dyspeptic Santa (though he’s not so relentlessly miserable as the one in Blah Blah Blah’s Ho Ho Ho in Leeds some years ago), and his son Bumblehole.
Whose name, nudgingly naughty and clearly contrived, is a sign of the problem with the play. Though it’s often funny, and certainly clever, it remains a clutter of motifs that never cohere into an organic whole. It attacks only bland surfaces, and has none of the generosity or richness that so many other productions find in this strange midwinter season.
Cast: Bill Buckhurst, Imogen Doel, Tom Godwin, Amanda Hadingue, Chand Martinez, Gabriel Quigley, David Sterne, Robert Stocks.
Director: Anthony Neilson.
Designer: NMiriam Buether.