National Business Review - December 17, 2004

Theatre: What the reindeer really think about Santa

John Smythe
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues
By Jeff Goode
Directed by Holly Shanahan
At Bats, Wellington
Until December 18

Written by US writer Jeff Goode in 1994, The Eight: Reindeer Monologues has been produced in seasons around the world ever since, with suggested script updates advised on his website.

It's a timeless allegory that shows how highly mythologised celebrities can get away with gross corruption because those who work for them are preoccupied by different passions and priorities.

Dasher (Kenny King) is really angry. He's been number one from day one, delivered the goods no matter what, year after year, then along comes the differently-abled Rudolph ... It's truly tragic that Rudolph is now in a catatonic state but as for why, let alone the dark rumours circulating about Santa and Vixen, Dasher just doesn't want to know. It's December again and he's got a few billion kids to think about.

A highly camp and neurotic Cupid (Erroll Shand) claims Mrs Claus and Santa are into freaky stuff and Santa's a walking/sitting sex crime. "Why is it," Cupid wants to know, "that pa edophiles are so homophobic and homophobes think they're God's gift to gays?" He's too screwed up to take effective action.

Prancer (Andrew Waterson) has it in for Hollywood ("Why has no deer ever been nominated for an Academy Award, not even Bambi?") but is full of off-screen gossip and thinks Vixen is just a little schemer, trying to get noticed with this sexual harassment thing.

Blitzen (Camille Keenan) worries that Vixen is throwing her career away by trying to stand up to the jolly fat pervert but at the same time, when a doe says no, she means no, and if they can't make Christmas safe for children maybe it should be cancelled.

But born-again Comet (Kent Lambert) was an at-risk young buck who got in with a bad crowd and sees St Nick and his wife as his saviours. He turns the finger of suspicion back on Vixen and writes her, Blitzen and Cupid off as "two lesbians and a fag."

Although Dancer (Jo Crilly) expects holiday pay and maternity leave despite only having to work one day a year, she can't contemplate going out on strike in sympathy for Vixen because she really needs the job.

As for poor old Donner (Mike King), Rudolph's bought-off father, he is so weak, useless and lacking in integrity he might as well be a kebab already.

Finally the resolutely "out there" Vixen (Brainne Kerr) has her say. Sure she did a photo shoot for Playboy. Is it her fault Santa uses pin-ups of her to arouse himself? She did not seduce that man. But there was only one witness to what happened and he's catatonic. And does she want to be the world's most famous victim? Does she want to go down in history as the one who stopped Christmas?

Although the monologues mostly retell past experiences, they are dramatically dynamic because the audience is addressed directly and asked to consider, on the basis of these testimonies, what possibility there might be that justice may prevail.

Director Holly Shanahan extracts strong performances that are mostly well-rooted in passion, commitment and authenticity.

Only one (Keenan) opts for a phoney Bronx accent, thus helping to prove that when actors dispense with such diversions and use their own voices as a starting point, they dig deeper and extract more valuable nuggets of truth.

Errol Shand especially proves that an extreme characterisation that grows from reality and honours the essence of its humanity can invest such nuggets with sharp contours that bring dark and sparkling texture to his all-too-possible story.

The inspired decision to get local fashion shops to dress the characters in exchange for in-programme promotions helps to accentuate the social diversity and vary the look of this provocatively entertaining show.