December 2010

The Eight : The Reindeer Monologues

George Evans

Above The Stag, the self proclaimed "Most central fringe theatre" in London, is, as its name promises, above a pub. Interesting therefore that it is playing host to "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues", a production that boasts the direction of up and coming, award winning Matthew Lloyd Davies, celebrated actor Kali Peacock and the backing of Alan Aykbourne. It seems therefore that this production brings together the Big and the Small. The play itself -simply consisting of eight long monologues- won writer Jeff Goode awards in 1994 for the way it "examined the covering up of a scandal and the impact of revelation". The scenario is wonderfully ludicrous: Eight of Santa's reindeer waxing lyrical about the claim that Santa is a rapist, paedophile, pervert and general bastard. We are introduced to these reindeer shortly after Vixen (a reindeer) has accused Santa of raping her in his workshop. Each reindeer offers his or her opinion on the accusation; some supporting vixen and the claim that Santa is a violent, sex addicted pest, and others arguing the opposite; that he supports poor, needy reindeer the world over, and is the undeniable symbol of Christmas and general happiness everywhere. This ludicrous world is interesting in its own right. It is not interesting in terms of a wider context. It doesn't comment in any valid way about anything outside its own madness, despite unashamedly claiming to reflect OUR world of cover up and mass media.

The set was bare and basic - eight chairs set out up stage, beneath a selection of mounted stag horns; proudly forcing home both venue and play. The space was long, narrow and intimate, with every bead of sweat and fleck of spit visible. A fitting atmosphere therefore for the revelation of intimate secrets. The delightfully simple lay out was let down however by needless lighting changes, that took the audience out of lap land and back into central London.

We are presented with eight archetypal characters in the reindeer. A brash, arrogant, young buck, an ageing father, a seductive temptress, a reformed young offender, a definitively camp poser, a vain and deluded actor, a girly dancer and a dominating, suit wearing mother hen. The substance and back story of these characters is fascinating. Humane and intricate. They are not human, but reindeer - a delightful concept. What wasn't wonderful was much of the acting. Some monologues were simply much better than others. The ageing father figure (Donner) was brilliantly portrayed by Martin Ritchie. He embodied the pain of betrayal in wittingly letting the paedophilic Santa take advantage of his disabled son Rudolph, with subtle poise. On the other hand, the girly dancer, (Dancer), was unconvincingly put across by Heather Johnson. I'm afraid to say that Heather was an example of a few of the other performers, in having just left Drama School, and lacking confidence. It is sad that this production is proof that with experience often comes simple good acting.

"The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" creates an intriguing ridiculous world. But that is it. There is nothing wrong with that if that is the intention of a production; in fact it is a very admirable achievement. What isn't admirable is claiming to be making a profound social comment, and simply not. Why claim to be profound when you can settle for the ridiculous?