Parents beware: this anarchic family show could give sensitive children nightmares. Rude, lurid, unpredictable, unhinged, it’s by Anthony Neilson, creator of some of the most darkly thrilling theatre of the last two decades. The plot is mayhem, and Nick Powell's songs, though delivered by rosy-cheeked carollers, are stuffed with sly jokes and cynicism. It’s like discovering shards of glass in your plum pudding.
Ten-year-old Holly hates Christmas: whatever’s waiting under the tree each year, it’s never her real dad. So she’s got a plan. She’ll ambush Santa and enlist his help in finding her elusive father. Her methods of persuasion are worryingly violent, involving chilli powder, superglue and near-electrocution – and events only get more alarming. Santa is a miserable git who bullies his inept elf son, Bumblehole; Holly’s reviled stepdad is a dog, complete with wagging tail; and, brilliantly, her beloved teddy bear comes to life, and turns out to be no fluffy-minded toy, but an evil Russian master criminal.
Miriam Buether’s set, which wraps Holly’s home in a huge satin bow like an oversized Christmas gift, has a hallucinatory, cartoonish quality. The cast, led by Imogen Doel as Holly, waspish in her yellow-and-black striped jumper, are equally vibrant.
Neilson’s production is overlong and diffuse, and not all kids will respond to his gleefully jaundiced take on the seasonal celebrations. But amid the annual blizzard of panto and Dickens, this is outstandingly inventive. Totally weird and, at its best, wildly funny.