Annals of Edinburgh Stage
December 17, 2010
The Store (Formerly the GRV)
By Thom Dibdin
Whipping into the theatre calendar for four days of Advent, new Edinburgh-based theatre company Peapod Productions open many little doors with this sturdy cabaret production of Jeff Goode’s fascinatingly dark, comic and challenging Christmas play.
The Eight are the eight reindeer who pull Santa’s sleigh on his annual trip around the chimneys of the world, battling through ice-storms, snow and tempest to bring presents to the children and ensure that Christmas happens.
One by one, they relate their opinion on an alleged incident in Santa’s Toy Shop. The allegations of Santa’s inappropriate behaviour have sparked off a rebellion amongst the ranks of the reindeer and, if they turn out to be true, will mean the end of the present run.
It is, at least at the outset, hilarious stuff. The anthropomorphised reindeer talk candidly of their own – and the Claus family’s – predilections for unusual sexual practices. As they would, being in a job in which they strip off and career round the world in tight-leather bondage strapping, and having their buttocks whipped by a fat man in a red outfit with white-fur trim.
Dasher, the militaristic lead reindeer of The Eight every year – except on the one foggy occasion when Rudolph led them – will hear nothing bad about Claus. Philip Kingscott plays him as as a fiercely barking WW2 RAF type, who has nothing but contempt for those who won’t go out on the run.
Cupid, out and proud, has nothing positive to say for Santa. Thomas Hallen judges the character perfectly, neither playing for laughs nor being too camp, but letting his mischievous side balance his outrage at what happened. Suitably pithy and upfront observations about Claus and what he likes to do with his “jolly little elf” add to the entertainment while bringing the picture into focus.
There is no such concern for self-obsessed Hollywood – Kingscott again, although you would be forgiven for not realising – who just sees the allegations as an attempt by Vixen to create her own media profile. More to the point, the film he suspects Vixen is planning will affect DVD rental income of his own movie, Prancer.
The real depth of the allegations don’t become apparent until Justine Wortsman arrives, as militant feminist Blitzen. This isn’t the Reindeer equivalent of an inappropriate comment from the boss at the water-cooler, or even a bit of a grope at the Christmas party, its Vixen’s rape by Santa Claus – disturbed by the young Rudolph who has been traumatised by what he saw.
Director Stuart Nicoll has done a great job in maintaining a clear balance between the two conflicting strands of the play. The comedy of reindeer rumpy-pumpy keeps on coming back, but the enormity of the allegations, the suggesting that they might be true and the realisation of what the consequences would be, all mesh in to the laughs.
Unfortunately it doesn’t quite play out as well as it might. Hallen’s return as the reformed Comet – saved from his drug-taking tearaway lifestyle by Santa – doesn’t dwell quite enough on the script and is too one-dimensional. Nor does Kingscott cover himself with glory as Donner, Rudolph’s dad, with an accent that is flat-hatted midlands but turns out to be supposed to be from Tranent.
Wortsman begins to pull it back on line with the cooky Dancer, who sympathises but can’t bring herself to support Vixen. Although even she doesn’t quite get the natural speech patterns Goode has written into his script.
There’s no such problem for Kirsty Eila McIntyre. Her smouldering, provocative and in-your-face scoping of the room – laid out in cabaret style with the actors walking among the audience so there is no escape – is immediately entrancing.
It allows her to make the material develop with an equally provocative edge to it. The realisation being that we are not looking in at the window of an advent calendar to glimpse images of a world of robins, angels and holy wreaths. But we are looking back from that world, into a rather more sordid one, in which powerful men can get away with what they want.
Great packaging and a packing mightily powerful punch, this needs just a bit more attention to the details but is a fine debut from Peapod.
Run continues to Sunday 19 December 2010
Peapod Productions website