November 8, 2010
Block Up Your Chimney
by David Scott
If reindeer could really speak, what awful tales would we hear? My hackles rose in the lobby when I was confronted with early November shiny baubles and other such Christmas frippery, but then the bleak stage set with its eight chairs and numerous pairs of reindeer antlers made me feel a lot more sanguine. Any play which cleverly destroys the myth and magic of Christmas gets my vote.
Santa, we quickly learn, is not the fat, jolly ho-ho-ho character we were led to believe. He's a workplace bully, a rapist, a paedophile, and a sexual abuser of animals - well, his reindeer to be more precise. I'm not sure of the technicalities of this. Deer can kick mighty hard with their hind legs. But I digress. Mrs Claus is even worse, if that's possible. An alcoholic harridan, she disgraces herself at the Christmas party by doing with the elves - if I heard it right - what a certain mail-order bride did with ping pong balls in Priscilla. Rudolph, he of the red-nose and happy tune, has been reduced to a catatonic state by what he witnessed in Santa's toy shop. Stop. Enough is enough. Who will blow the whistle on this dreadful state of affairs? And will it jeopardise the Christmas sleigh run, disappointing millions of children all round the white, Western middle-class world where Santa concentrates his endeavours.
Cue the reindeer monologues, testimonies by Santa's favoured eight reindeer, the Lapland Eight as they undoubtedly deserve to be called. One by one, they make the case for or against Santa, and sometimes just for themselves. Dasher (Alex Gartshore) reveals his pride at leading the team while Comet (James McGregor) praises with evangelistic glee the man who has done more for peace and stability on earth as though he was a Fox News correspondent talking about George Bush. The real stings in the tale come when Rudolph's father, beautifully captured by Martin Ritchie, recounts how his red-nosed son became destroyed mentally and physically, a dumb acolyte on the spurious altar of parental ambition. Then there is Vixen (Kirsty Malpass), brutally raped by the said Mr Claus, who started this whole unpleasant ball rolling at a time when people were supposed to be feeling festive. Ho-ho-ho, you might say. There's the token gay reindeer, a reindeer with a movie career under threat (a very slick turn from Roger Rowley) and a feminist one too who fights admirably for Vixen's corner.
Funny and sad and tragic as they are, at the end of the day monologues are just that, and a terribly easy way out for a dramatist. The golden opportunity was here to create something far funnier and more interactive - with monologues there is no tension, no dramatic arc in the story. The Reindeer Monologues, for all its amusing and poignant moments, feels somewhat flat. When you see eight people on the stage, and you know each of them has a piece to say, you start counting off their turns one by one. A trial of Santa Claus, replete with forensic cut and thrust, might have been a better concept.
That said, the cast are terrific and milk their parts for all they are worth. The monologues are just the right length, never outstaying their welcome as with so many plays of this sort, and director Matthew Lloyd Davies, while squeezing as much interaction as he can into the piece, gives each of the characters just the right amount of rope with which to hang Santa. There's a moral too... Christmas must be protected at all costs, and if that means having an abusive, lecherous bearded bestialist and a sleighful of damaged reindeer, then so be it. It's only once a year.
The dull format aside, this is a wicked and clever piece of writing, well sustained by a dexterous cast. Block up your chimney: here comes Santa.