The New Zealand Herald
December 8, 2008

Review: The Reindeer Monologues at the Basement

Paul Simei-Barton

Be warned: These reindeer are nothing like the cute creatures in the Disney movies and no amount of parental guidance could shield children from the scandalous debauchery described by Jeff Goode's wickedly funny vision of high times at the North Pole.

Since its American debut in 1994, the Reindeer Monologues has become an underground cult phenomenon that offers a raunchy antidote to sugary Christmas kitsch and obliquely targets the rapacious commercialism of the festive season.

As each of the eight reindeer named in Rudolph's song tell their stories, we are given a picture of a very bad Santa who stands accused of a bewildering assortment of sex crimes. The allegations of rape and molestation are presented in lurid detail with monologues resembling the narcissistic confession of the whack-jobs who appear on daytime talk-shows.

The humour is often outrageously tasteless but has a sharp satirical edge and cleverly speculates on how reindeer might view humans: several members of the sleigh team are appalled by Mrs Claus' passion for taxidermy and Dancer laments that no one appreciates the intricate tail-work of deer ballet.

Casting appears to be based on the All Blacks' ill-fated rotation policy with a different group of players taking the stage on each night of the season. But while Graham Henry's refusal to settle on a top team may have cost us the World Cup, the democratic impulse behind this strategy makes a lot more sense in the world theatre.

Forty actors at various stages in their careers are given the opportunity to strut their stuff in seriously juicy roles and as each night's cast list is a closely-guarded secret, the audience is kept guessing as to whether they will be seeing a veteran TV star or fresh-faced drama-school graduate.

With such a large cast some unevenness is to be expected but Director Cameron Rhodes keeps the energy levels pumping and encourages audience participation that is enhanced by cabaret-style seating with friendly bar service.

On opening night, standout performances came from Oliver Driver who nailed the straight-shooting machismo of Dasher the sleigh-team leader; Morgana O'Reilly who brought a manic edge to her portrayal of a reformed delinquent deer who won't hear a bad word about Saint Nick; and Dean O'Gorman who captured the bitchy self-absorption of a wannabe screen actor.

In keeping with the Christmas spirit proceeds from the production are going towards the purchase of a much-needed air-conditioning unit for the Basement theatre.