December 5, 2008


The Eight: Reindeer Monologues
by Jeff Goode
directed by Cameron Rhodes

at Basement Theatre, Auckland
Until 19 Dec 2008

Reviewed by Nik Smythe, 5 Dec 2008

The crowd convenes at cabaret style round table seating festively adorned with colourful stencils of Santa and his reindeer.   A simple stage resplendant with shiny lights on black curtain is where the action takes place, by which I really mean the various individual accounts of actions past by what tabloids refer to as 'inside sources', i.e. Santa's reindeer.

Extrapolating what we know from such famous rhymes and carols The Night Before Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and the perennial though more recent Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, Jeffe Goode's hilarious script takes these world famous loveable characters to darker places than we are used to seeing them in.

In brief, everything we thought we knew about Santa Claus and his faithful herd of sleigh-pullers ('The Eight'), not to mention his elves and his wife, is strongly alleged to conceal something far more insidious, corrupt and perverse.  Santa himself ('the most powerful man in the world!') is facing serious charges of sexual violation against nubile young doe Vixen, and the deer themselves are divided on who is guilty and who the victims are.

The clever gimmick (as if that wasn't enough) is that each reindeer is alternately played each night by one of five actors, whom I gather offer dramatically distinctive takes on their respective roles.  Under Cameron Rhodes' expert direction every performer opening night excelled in presenting their hilarious stereotypes.  It's obvious they've had a lot of fun, which transfers exponentially to us, the audience.

Oliver Driver broke the ice as the self-important macho head buck Dasher, angry about the issues surrounding the lawsuit in question, and not a small amount bitter over the one singular time when Rudolf, total rookie and disadvantaged son to Donner, lead the herd on account of 'fog'...(Rudolf himself, often discussed throughout the eight monologues, doesn't appear - he's in a padded cell somewhere singing carols to himself.)

Todd Emerson's Cupid is an extreme contrast to Dasher:  a drug addled gay porn hedonist, who's involvement with the case at hand is little or none but he's still got his opinion.  As Prancer, renamed Hollywood on account of his aspirations, Dean O'Gorman offers a pretentious, ambitious wannabe grown bitter by the chain of events which has caused his alleged star quality to go all but uncelebrated.

The first doe to state her case is Blitzen, played by Nisha Madhan as an amiable cooking host, albeit dishing the dirt on the inherent perversion of the Christmas system and the people in it.  She also quite rightly points out the denial parents who tell their children there is no Santa are clearly in...

The second half sees young Comet (Morgana O'Reilly) crashing in with her Destiny-esque hyper-evangelist pro-Santa rant.  By Comet's own account Santa turned her life around when she was a troubled young delinquent, and his critics and accusers are simply ignorant.  'I guess being a living saint makes you a target for this sort of thing'.

Michelle Blundell's Dancer is a sleight wee ballerina harbouring some serious schizoid neuroses, and a particular dislike for Mrs Claus, who never does anything.  Claire Chitham's Donner is another washed-up wastrel, clinging to her forty of whiskey and laconically lamenting what happened with her poor son Rudolf, the Vixen scandal, and basically everything about her miserable has-been life.

Finally the one we've been waiting for - the Plaintiff, Vixen (Bonnie Soper), seductive sultry glamourpuss.  Her own story, by which she justifies threatening to bring the most well-loved icon of our time down into the dirt, isn't so much of a shocking reveal by the time we get to it -  it seems more like a realistic analogy for any similar scandalous tabloid fiasco, only about a centuries old alcoholic and a flying deer.

So did Mr Saint Nicholas Claus commit the perverted atrocity of which he is accused?  That'd be one for gossiping conspiracy theorists to obsess over for generations to come.  Meanwhile, ho ho ho and behave this Christmas.

N.B.:   The Basement is not a large theatre, and given the potential for people to go more than once to experience a different lineup, as well as any number of first timers attending on a whim or well-deserved recommendation, it's advisable to book early for this one folks.