Alex Gartshore, Heather Johnson, Roger Rowley, Kirsty Malpass, James McGregor, Domenico Listorti, Martin Ritchie, Kali Peacock
Matthew Lloyd Davies
If you're sick of the fact that it's barely November and the Christmas decorations have been in the shops for months, why not indulge your inner Grinch by going along to see Jeff Goode's The Eight: Reindeer Monologues? But be warned, you might never look at Santa the same way again.|
The monologues take a magnificently mean-spirited idea - what if, instead of being a big, jolly fat man, Santa Claus was a bully, a paedophile, a rapist and abuser of animals? - and turns it into a mordantly funny play.
It's presented as a series of testimonies from "the Eight" - the elite band of reindeer chosen to pull the sleigh, brought together to testify in the matter of Santa's alleged rape of one of their number. Only one very famous name is mysteriously absent.
Each monologue paints an ever-darkening picture of life with the Clauses - the abusive boss man and his predatory, alcoholic wife - and their reign of terror, whitewashed in the name of protecting Christmas. From Alex Gartshore's cocky Dasher opening with an avowal that he's proud to lead the team (except on that one, fateful foggy night) and willing to pay whatever sacrifices it costs to do so - through ever grimmer stories, so by the time that James McGregor's Comet stands up in heated defence of "Saint Nick", his words ring as hollow as a TV evangelist justifying a penchant for rent boys.
The action culminates in two devastating reveals: Martin Ritchie's Donner, Rudolph's father, unveiling his son as a damaged, disabled child sacrificed to a parent's misguided ambition, and defiant victim Vixen (Kirsty Malpass) giving her account of the rape and its consequences. By the time they're finished, you may want to hide in a cave until January.
It's testament to Goode's writing that such a tough subject yields so many laughs, helped by uniformly strong performances from the cast. The actors embrace the absurdity of their roles by playing then for the most part deadly straight, whether it's Roger Rowley as Hollywood (formerly Prancer), worried about the impact of Rudolph's fame on his own movie career, or Kali Peacock as strident feminist Blitzen, keen to fight Vixen's corner. Even when they veer towards caricature - Heather Johnson's ditzy Dancer or Domenico Listorti's Cupid ("the only openly gay reindeer"), you can see there are layers hidden beneath the surface.
Director Matthew Lloyd Davies keeps things tight and ensures the action is more than simply a series of disconnected monologues - each one feeds into the reactions of the whole (watch Dasher's face as it becomes apparent he knew exactly what was going on, and the measures he took to prevent it). This makes it a far richer and more affecting piece.
Clever, original and funny - albeit unavoidably slightly bleak - these Monologues are well worth a listen. Even if you do find yourself going home and wanting to brick up your chimney...