‘The Night Before Christmas’ has something to say about Christmas, but it’s not quite clear what that is. It might be suggesting an anti-Christmas message or it might be that elves really do exist. It might be the secret to that special Christmas feeling (bringing a whole new meaning to the words ‘high on Christmas’) or it might be that doing the right thing is, after all, the only Christmas feeling worth having. Whatever Christmas means to you, prepare to have your feelings challenged.
Anthony Neilson’s play (first performed in 1995, so spot those ‘90s references) is a crackling 55 minute swoop of melodrama, laughs and downright silliness. It all starts when Gary (played with bumbling aplomb by Arthur Godden) calls his mate Simon (an angry Joshua Phillips) on Christmas Eve to come to his warehouse as he has captured – drumroll, please – an elf! Simon is convinced the elf is a burglar (after all, shouldn’t an elf have pointy ears?), the elf is desperate to get away (for reasons which later become apparent) and, well, hilarity ensues.
Tawdry Lace Theatre have a great time performing this foul-mouthed anti-pantomime in the Alma Tavern Theatre, with a lot packed into the 55 minutes. Is the elf actually an elf? Will Simon will ever stop being a modern-day Scrooge? Will Gary get local prostitute Cherry out of his warehouse before his ex-wife drops by? Can Power Ranger toys be wished into existence? Can Cherry can give her son a better life? Does anyone ever get what they really want for Christmas? All of this is contained in a gleeful dollop of furious comedy.
A small set works well and they play the unspoken as well as the spoken, with laughs coming as much from a well-timed look or grimace (including a daft scene where they try and take the elf’s heartbeat) as from the dialogue itself. Calum Anderson’s elf, though with fewer lines, does a good job of maintaining this farcical elf-not-an-elf-but-actually-maybe-really-is-an-elf act, mixing his Eeyorish predictions of Christmas catastrophe with sly flashes of cheeky–chappy (or should that be cheeky-elfy?) adroitness.
After a while I found the first half a little too much of a one-note rant and enjoyed the tonal shift about halfway through when it lightened up, characters opened up and there were some moments of real heart along with comedic brilliance. There are some cracking comedy one-liners – a joke about Hartlepool and another about ‘a Queen’s speech you’ll never forget’ spring to mind – and the energy was high throughout.
Sweary, lairy and loud, this anti-Christmas-yet-Christmassy show will kick you in the goolies whilst warming your heart at the same time. Not one to take the kids (or those with genteel sensibilities!) to but well worth an hour of your time.