Lunatics and the Poor present:
The Eight Reindeer Monologues
by Jeff Goode
Directed by Matthew Lloyd Davis
Above the Stag
1 – 27 November 2010
A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
This monologue driven play, written by Chicago playwright Jeff Goode in 1994, centres around the obscenity of Christmas, in that Santa aka the man in the red suit, becomes a metaphor for plain old fat cat perversion. Having said that, the elves aren’t exactly angels either – then there’s the ‘eight.’
Take Dasher (Alex Gartshore), for example, who’s so competitive he doesn’t give a damn about anyone or anything else. And Cupid (Domenico Listorti), a flaming gay male who savours the whipping Santa gives his reindeer on the Christmas Eve run. In the case of Prancer, (Roger Rowley), The Hollywood film about him has gone straight to his head, err, antlers. Doe-eyed Dancer (Heather Johnson) misses dancing, and though it’s great to have a job which only entails working one day a year, she’s peeved that day is a holiday and Santa’s not paying extra. Vixen? (Kirsty Malpass) on the surface at least, given her low cut blouse, micro-mini and frequently flashed red knickers, is what she seems on the tin - though looks may be deceiving. Then there’s butch feminist Blitzen (Kali Peacock), who’s sick of being seen as body parts. Rough houser turned priest Comet (James McGregor) is too self-righteous for his own good, with a staunchness bordering red neck. Speaking of red, whatever happened to Rudolph? Don’t worry, his Dad’s there to fill us in.
Interested? Good. I wasn’t sure I was before I went, as this seemed an especially difficult piece to stage, for it is apparently, a cult US play with as many as 150 productions being staged last year alone. As I’ve never seen the original version of this award winning play, it’s impossible to make comparisons. So, as I can’t access this production based on logistical differences, I’m forced to consider it on its own merits. And both play and this production have things in their favour - black humour, while not traditionally Christmassy, can be a welcome relief at this jolly, commercialized time of year, and socio-political content is always welcome, whatever the season. So what’s not to like, in a production of a play that’s not necessarily meant to be liked, but is designed to hit a few home truths and be potentially enjoyable?
I’ll start with what I see as its drawbacks…Some of the monologues tend to drag here, the acting is uneven (which means the directing is uneven too) and to be honest, the overall impression this production left was a disjointed one. The script being used here (which is fairly close to that used Stateside), similarly highlights differences between ‘types’ by utilizing various accents such as Prancer aka Hollywood being a Californian, Rudolph’s father, a Scotsman, who explains the story of his victimized (by Santa) son as though he were in Court, etc. However, unlike much praised productions of yore, this one features characterizations versus characters in terms of its acting, subsequently lessening one’s ability to fully engage with it. As a result, I found myself enjoying some monologues in which the actors were fully engaged in being their characters and otherwise, feeling removed it.
Film and television actress Kali Peacock deftly treads the fine line between humour and truth as militant feminist Blitzen, her finely tuned delivery (slightly reminiscent of Dawn French), enabling us to both laugh in all the right places and take her points, recent Bristol Old Vic graduate James McGregor as former tough guy cum religious fanatic Comet gives a two-tiered performance allowing us to sense his former, rougher self beneath his priest’s collar, Roger Rowley (of Leeds) is genuinely funny, and, convincing as Cali-forn-ia pretty boy Prancer in his promising, professional debut and Heather Johnson as Dancer, demonstrates comedic flair via excellent timing and a sense of the duality inherent to all of us within the context of her performance.
Unfortunately, other characters seem rather flat by comparison, as did the lighting which was strangely stark and bright for a production meant to be darkly funny. As the smallness of the performance space did not allow for only one actor to be before us at once, as they should be in this play, either a small spotlight on whoever is speaking or, the cast bathed in contrastingly cheery Christmas lighting might add contrast and better enable audience engagement. As things stand, we are left with something that feels more like a dress rehearsal, with a few sets of antlers on the walls, (and a pair on the ground), than a finished production. With no props or set, the performance space is black and blank and the actors alternately sit or stand before their fellows, and the audience, waiting for their turns to speak. If something, however small, (or conversely OTT) were added to establish a sense of ‘forced Christmas’ (i.e. fake snow/tree) it would only serve to enhance the play’s intent and it’s dark sense of humour.
What is the play’s intent, I hear you ask. For me, it is like a game of Chinese Whispers – all the ways in which an uncomfortable story, especially if it’s a true one affecting ‘someone else’, gets justified, defended, championed, ignored, denied, covered-up, lied about, exposed or told, and what we, as the person listening, rather than experiencing it, would be willing to do about it, even if it hasn’t happened to us. That’s definitely food for thought.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to feed on in this production, apart from intermittent laughs.
Above the Stag
15 Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DD
Tues. to Sat. 7:30 pm, Sun. at 6pm
Box Office: 020 8932 4747
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