Review: The Night Before Christmas

3 star rating
The unquestionable gem of an idea at its heart fails to be consistently milked for humour, with times where the play gets bogged-down, in spite of watchable characterisations.
The Night Before Christmas at Southwark Playhouse

Image: Southwark Playhouse



Closes here: Saturday 29 December 2018

Author:
Anthony Neilson

Composer:
Andrew Pisano and Eamonn O'Dwyer

Director:
Alex Sutton

Cast:

Douggie McMeekin - Gary

Michael Salami - Simon

Unique Spencer - Cherry

Dan Starkey - Elf


Synopsis


Gary's life is shit.


It's Christmas eve, he's broke, he's promised his son some top of the range Power Ranger figures but he hasn't delivered them, and now his ex wife is out to find him baying for blood.


But none of that matters any more because Gary has a secret.


A big, fat (well … small, tiny, and extremely festive) secret that might very well save him and the whole of humanity.


A mixture of South Park and Miracle on 34th Street by way of Scrooged, Anthony Neilson's hilarious and cutting comedy about finding the true spirit of Christmas comes to Southwark for the first time.


If you're a real scrooge, if you hate Christmas, or if you're just exhausted by going through the motions to please un-pleasable relatives, then this show is for you.


Background


This production is performed in arrangement with Julia Tyrrell Management.

ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Friday 30 November 2018
Review star rating image

As we arrive at the start of the Christmas month, the panto season makes its jovial entrance in earnest with dozens of shows on offer, especially for families.


It's not, however, exclusively the time for Cinderella to loose her fancy footwear, or Dames to prance across the stage in extravagantly raucous dresses.


The festive season often throws-up some different ideas, many for adults, and this show is one of them.


Anthony Neilson's play is a product of the mid-1990s but still feels relatively fresh and generally palatable.


It borrows its title from the poem of the same name, first published in 1823 and sometimes called 'A Visit from St. Nicholas'.


The title of Mr Neilson's short play, though, hasn't much in common with its well-known counterpart, other than the time during which it is set - Christmas Eve.


Douggie McMeekin's Gary is a merchant - of sorts.


He buys and sells goods obtained from dubious sources.


That doesn't stop him being well-in with the local police who seem to be some of his best customers.


But it's not the goods that Gary sells which form the focus of this play - it's a being that Gary has discovered seemingly trying to jemmy his way into Gary's warehouse.

Dan Starkey (foreground) with Douggie McMeekin and Michael Salami (L-R) in The Night Before Christmas - photo by Darren Bell

Dan Starkey (foreground) with Douggie McMeekin and Michael Salami (L-R) - photo by Darren Bell


The being is an Elf - well, possibly.


The big question is whether it is a real Elf with magical powers, perhaps, or simply an ordinary human being dressed-up as one.


To assist in his endeavours to discover the truth of the matter, Gary calls on the assistance of his pal, Simon (played with suitable scepticism by Michael Salami).


The basic idea here is unquestionably a gem - one of those cleverly inventive concepts that spring-up fairly rarely.


The proposition requires down-to-earth, streetwise people who barely scrape a living, to question their adult beliefs and hopes in the light of a possible alternative reality that might benefit them.


That offers considerable potential for comedy, and the set-up actually lures us into believing that the play is simply a comedy especially when we first meet the Elf, and in the initial stages.


But there are comedically vacant periods in the play where the humour largely evaporates, and the enterprise seems to get rather bogged-down in less comedic issues and indecision, especially after the arrival of Unique Spencer's loud and vociferous Cherry.


Alex Sutton's production certainly delivers watchable characterisations from the ensemble, and Michael Leopold's design ably suggests a fairly grubby, backstreet storage facility - and there's a neat touch with the Elf's hands tied-up with flashing Christmas lights.


The biggest laugh of the show actually arrives somewhat unexpectedly right at the very end finding favour with the audience and providing a suitable final punctuation.


But the play as a whole seems to run out of comedic steam at times, which leaves a slight sense of disappointment given the possibilities the initial set-up proffers.


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