I have to confess, I was alarmed by the ‘elfa-seltzer’. Test tubes gleam with the green and pink liquid, and as the expectant audience wait on chairs so miniature our knees were practically up to our shoulders, I just knew we were going to have to drink one. Sure enough, when a very hassled twenty-first century elf appeared, the instruction was given. In ‘Alice in Wonderland’, such potions make you shrink or grow – in perambulatory show ‘Once Upon a Christmas’ it supposedly gives you the power to observe a very post-modern take on the troubles that have erupted in Pantoland.
Site specific theatre company Look Left Look Right has been given the entirety of Covent Garden as its playground, and it has to be said, it provides a spectacular set. This reviewer is slightly allergic to elves, even of the post-modern variety, but thankfully their role quickly fades. Like the animals in Noah’s ark, punters have to go in two by two, before being separated to go on different missions to ‘save Christmas’. What ensues is a series of ingeniously choreographed ‘encounters’ around some of Covent Garden’s most picturesque shops, in which tabloid culture, scandalous tweets, and a defiantly unseasonal monk all play their part in refracting the central fairy tale for sceptics.
It is forbidden to reveal exact details. Suffice it to say that this will be an entertaining test for all aspects of your personality, as you are asked either to slag off and taunt characters behind their backs, improvise poems and dispense large dollops of relationship advice. As you progress, all the data you reveal is assiduously collected and passed onto a central source. Throughout the question lurks, will you or will you not save Christmas?
The culmination of the journey is as amusing as it is cleverly co-ordinated – a gloriously tongue-in-cheek response both to the ongoing story and your own contribution. The fact that the lurid ‘elfa-seltzer’ has been replaced by prosecco is yet another delight in this mischievous reinvention of both London and the festive season.
By Rachel Halliburton