The British Theatre Guide
With the tube strikes crippling London, Lord only knows what would happen should Santa's reindeer go on strike. No presents for those who have been good. No joyful faces on Christmas morn. No Christmas - full stop. As festive adverts take over the TV and all manner of Christmas merchandise fills many a supermarket aisle, The Eight: Reindeer Monologues asks whether Saint Nicholas really is as saintly as he makes out?
The evening gets off to a flying start as Dasher (Alex Gartshore) darts around the stage as if in training for Strictly Come Dancing. The audience's attention is well and truly grabbed by the antlers as they become privy to a pro- and anti-Santa drive. Whilst some reindeer thank the jolly old fellow for what he has done for them, Santa the Saviour soon becomes Santa the Sinner as others recount their own personal experiences of working with old St.Nick.
Domenico Listorti as Cupid, the only openly homosexual reindeer, pouts, struts and laughs most infectiously whilst recounting his own escapades as one of the elite team of eight sleigh pulling reindeer. Dressed in a sparkly top which would rival any disco glitterball, Listorti milks the innuendo in his text for all its worth and suddenly new meaning is brought to the phrases 'Santa coming down the chimney' and his 'jolly old elf'.
As feminist reindeer Blitzen, Kali Peacock proves that her character is a masterful matriarch not to be messed with; reindeers have rights too and she is prepared to stick up for her fellow reinsister until Santa is brought to justice. Eight mini monologues may sound tiresome to some, but this is certainly not the case in director Matthew Lloyd Davies' production.
Every action warrants a reaction and in The Eight: Reindeer Monologues it becomes increasingly clear that a large contributing factor to the enjoyment of the piece is being able to watch the seven nonspeaking reindeers' reactions to the monologue being spoken; it is here that the real reindeer relationships come out. Peacock is glorious to watch as her character responds to each reindeer utterance in a highly comic manner. Her timing is perfect and the execution of a simple change in facial expressions a joy to behold.
Although set and lighting are minimalistic in this production, they are most effective and rightly focus the audience's attention on the actors.
As the lighting dims, shadows resembling arthritic fingers are cast against the walls; the eight suddenly become serious. Stripped of their reindeer attributes, the anthropomorphic characters become beings with real issues. Although seen as a comic Christmas piece, The Eight: Reindeer Monologues also allows for a 'safe' exploration of issues surrounding rape and sexual harassment. Some of the philosophical and ethical questions raised by Vixen ring out in a year which has seen the Catholic Church at the centre of such controversy and, although parallels are not explicitly drawn, they are hard to ignore. Framing such a discussion using fictional characters and, in essence, bestiality as the crime committed, permits such an approach, but the harsh issues are not forgotten or secondary to the comedy and strongly resonate throughout the piece. The juxtapositioning of jokery with the hurt and pain on the reindeer's faces when describing Santa's escapades makes The Eight... even more dramatic. Comedy is at its best when it grabs you by the throat.
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues is another wonderful production for Above The Stag and the perfect pre-festive treat from Lunatics and the Poor. It's just a pity that it has taken sixteen years to cross the pond; thank goodness it doesn't take Santa that long on Christmas Eve!
Playing until 27th November 2010.
©Peter Lathan 2010