“All I want for Christmas is to meet my real Dad”
A bit of a random choice for January, but when an offer of £5 tickets for Get Santa! came into the inbox, I couldn’t resist a sneaky trip to the Royal Court, plus I’m still on leave for a week so technically I’m still on my Christmas holiday. Aimed at the 7-11 age range, this non-traditional Christmas show comes from the pen of Anthony Neilson with music by Nick Powell, offering a distinct alternative to pantomime which is recognisably suffused with the spirit of the Royal Court as much as it is with Christmas.
Holly Finnegan has the same Christmas wish every year, to meet her father for the first time, but frustrated with his lack of response, she hatches a plot to, well, get Santa and have him fulfil her demands. For though she is a relatively normal, if stroppy, 10 year old, her stepfather is a dog and her mother and grandmother are a bit batty, but not even she could forsee the wacky turn of events. For she manages to trap Santa’s son Bumblehole instead of the man himself and when the spirit of her father manifests itself in a malevolent Russian teddy bear who hoodwinks her, an absurd groundhog day situation emerges as Holly begins to realise that getting everything you want is not always as good as it sounds.
As with so many of the Christmas shows, it is hard to strike the balance between assessing them as pieces of theatre with the fact that I am not their target audience, but I have to admit to finding this a rather absurd delight and the children sat near me also seemed to be engaged and enjoying it too. It is very much for a modern, knowing audience, there’s no room here for nostalgic ‘innocence’ but in a world where my three year old nephew can correct me on the difference between the iPod touch and the iPhone, it seems somewhat appropriate. And a show aimed at children that looks at the complexities and difficulties of modern families and celebrates difference has to be commended.
Gabriel Quigley and Amanda Hadingue were great fun as Holly’s Mum and Gran respectively and Robert Stocks’ canine Bernard nicely appealing but I really loved Imogen Doel as Holly (a remarkable stage debut) and Tom Godwin’s buffoonish Bumblehole, who I really missed when he wasn’t onstage. Powell’s songs were nicely melodic and balanced the more bittersweet (at least sometimes) tone of the play which was full of humour firing at all levels. I loved Santa’s barb about the Scottish, the ribbing of the time-delay when talking to outside broadcasts on the telly and Bernard taking his own poop bag with him on his walks.
It is all rather eccentric but warm-hearted with it, Neilson directing with a nice sensitivity that never alienates (although the freaky teddy bear may well feature in a nightmare or two) and with Miriam Buether providing a gift-wrapped set and brightly coloured costumes, it made for an unexpectedly entertaining afternoon in the theatre. I do wonder about the wisdom of programming such a festive show into the middle of January though.