Something’s stirring in Gary’s warehouse. Not a mouse, no. An elf. A real-life bona fide little helper all the way from Lapland – or so he claims. Gary’s got him tied to a chair. It’s a ho-ho-hostage situation.
This is not a Night Before Christmas to take your kids too. Along with a spliff-loving Scouser and a single-mum sex worker, Gary (Navin Chowdhry) quizzes his captive. The elf – or the ‘scally in an elf suit,’ depending on your view – keeps coming up with answers. Santa doesn’t deliver presents, apparently, he enhances the ones mums and dads buy. How? With festive fairydust. Drugs? That explains the trackmarks on his arms. Doesn’t it? You can’t be sure: Craig Gazey plays the elf with a bedraggled ambiguity, so that every statement sounds like a stab in the dark.
Does it all add up? Not in the slightest. Inconsistencies, longueurs and awkward gear changes abound, but the central gesture is so delicious – especially combined with Anthony Neilson’s tar-black humour (watch for the Mandela gag) – that it hardly matters. Neilson basically dares you to believe, but at the same time, he dares you to doubt. This treads the finest of lines between cynicism and magic. Just like Christmas, then.
Neilson’s revised the play for Steve Marmion’s revival, updating it to swap Power Rangers for Furby Booms and adding some sharp Operation Yewtree references that nail the erosion of childhood wonder. He’s also – and this is really audacious – made it into a musical.
Better to say, an anti-musical. The lyrics are sublimely crappy (‘a time when people loved people’), the rhymes, clunky as fuck (‘when simple was simple’) and Tim Bell’s Casio keyboard tunes – synthetic as a plastic fir – are sung by four of the worst singers you’ll ever hear on a stage. Then, against all the odds, Neilson ekes some genuine festive feeling out of the earth he’s scorched. Genius.
By Matt Trueman