As I ascended the stairs to the theatre space at The Alma Tavern I could hear the faint tinkling of Christmas music, and it made me feel grumpy. As we took our seats, Chris Rea’s ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ began, with its familiar piano intro that makes my soul turn a faint hint of beige. I was transported back to my Saturday job at C&A’s where we were routinely tortured for weeks with a tape of about twelve terrible Christmas tunes, this being one of the main offenders. I am a firm believer that Christmas shouldn’t start until mid December, and even then that is probably a bit early. What the hell was I doing reviewing a Christmas show at the end of November? Little did I know that the production I was about to see was absolutely perfect for someone like me, someone with just a little touch of the ‘bah humbug’ about them. The Night Before Christmas by Tawdry Lace Theatre and written by Anthony Neilson is the perfect antidote to all this Christmas madness that is inescapable at this time of the year.
Gary (Arthur Godden) is a wide boy, a bit of a geezer. He has a failed marriage behind him and a penchant for hand jobs from the local hooker. This might not make him sound very nice, but he is a likeable wide boy, and his love for his son comes through loud and clear. It is Christmas Eve, and Gary has had a rather unexpected present fall into his lap in the shape of one of Santa’s little helpers who took a tumble from the sleigh. Gary calls in his mate Simon (Joshua Phillips), a disillusioned, cynical and sarcastic type with a bleak outlook on the world to help him figure out exactly what is going on. Is it all a ruse? Is this funny little man just a rather elaborately dressed burglar breaking into Gary’s warehouse to liberate some of his dodgy goods, or is it possible he is actually telling the truth? Simon is all for calling the police and getting this imposter in a ridiculous elf costume locked up, but Gary has a different idea. What if they decided to believe him? What if there was a way they could bargain with the little man to get what they want? Everyone knows that Christmas isn’t for grown ups, but what if they could find a way of spicing it up in return for the elf’s freedom? With the help of Cherry (Fay Greenhalgh) Gary’s ‘friend with benefits’ (that he has to pay for) our trio has to decide whether they will help save Christmas for all the children, or just make it better for themselves. Our dazed and confused elf (Calum Anderson) is powerless, because if he doesn’t make it back soon, he might not even make it out alive.
Despite my misgivings about reviewing a Christmas show in November, I actually really enjoyed this performance. On first reflection, this piece is funny, edgy and a great antidote to some of the more saccharine shows around during the festive season. As I have sat and reflected on what I saw throughout the day, I have realised that it is much more clever than initially I gave it credit for. I am uncomfortable with the amount of plastic crap my young daughters get given, and it’s a struggle to bring up kids these days that don’t turn into mindless consumers. I remember the feelings of disappointment after having them when I understood that Christmas wasn’t about me anymore once they had arrived, and my guilt at feeling a little miffed at this. This realisation brings about the potential to reject commercialism and concentrate on the things that matter, like family, friends and having a massive drinking session at my favourite café on Christmas Eve. These themes were all here in this play, and it was uncomfortable viewing in places as I was forced to really think about how I present the idea of Christmas to my kids and reflect on whether I am helping them get an idea of the true meaning of Christmas. Well, as much as an atheist with an aversion to plastic tut and a love of the kind of Christmas spirit that comes in bottles really can.
Tawdry Lace Theatre is definitely a company to look out for in the future. This Bristol based company only formed in 2015, so have lots of growing and development to do. However, my first impression of them as a company is a really good one, so I look forward to seeing what this young and dynamic group comes up with in the future.
The Night Before Christmas runs until the 3rd of December at The Alma Tavern in Clifton, Bristol. To book tickets, head to their website.
Review by Karen Blake