I am not really a Christmassy person, some would even go as far as describing me as a seasonal curmudgeon, especially given my love of black clothing, black eye liner, pentagrams and utter contempt for the Christmas music in supermarkets that berates our ears each winter. So when I was given the chance to go and see a Christmas show, it was not on my to do list for the week. I went along to see Douglas Walker’s Of Christmas Past with a good friend of mine, someone who I knew would be a shiny counter to my more nihilistic view of the Christmas season…
There is no escaping from the fact that this show is cheesy. Some of the gags were in truth completely lost on me because of my lack of contemporary cultural knowledge, but they were very clearly and happily appealing to every one else in the audience (who was not a Scroogelike figure dressed in black, with Siouxsie and the Banshees playing on her phone). The final big groan from the audience was clearly designed to happen and thus it was heartily enjoyed by Douglas Walker while he waited for the laughter and applause to fade. It has to be said, Walker is a beautiful story teller and that is what this is. It is a silly story, an endearing Christmas fairy tale and it is a perfectly fabulous one at that, with moments of complete whimsy, even when making jokes about mass murdering Nazis, genocidal ex-presidents and unlucky Elvis impersonators. Every target chosen for this strangely believable tale is perfect, the jokes are in places deliberately and unbelievably corny and yet very, very funny.
When Walker first took to the stage, his act did not grab me. I could not see where he was taking his story and for a few brief moments I did wonder if I was going to be subjected to a serious, arduous performance that would leave my backside aching and my brain unengaged. However, as he warmed into the story, he became more energetic and I soon found that I was hanging on his every ludicrous word, until we were racing towards the end, metaphorically hand in hand. The strange thing is, that for the first half of the story, I was actually considering the truth of his tale. Could this really happen? Are Coca Cola really the origin of that myth? What makes it more interesting is that with the portrayal of the Coca Cola company, he does indeed touch on some troubling truths. For example, they have been implicated in the murder of Union Leaders in Columbia and human rights abuses in Guatemala to list just a couple of their issues. So their portrayal as a devious and underhanded company is entirely plausible, especially given their annual Christmas truck campaign which hides any wrong doing in the selling sugary drinks to children.
As the story progresses however, the protagonists become less and less plausible and some of them are down right hilarious. Equally, some of them are heart breaking and I only hope that his theory about Carrie Fisher, who was a global treasure at the time of her ‘Death’, is completely true! I know that she would have made the perfect role model and this coming month, we get to see her last movie, which makes his theory entirely plausible. How many of us will watch that movie with tears in out eyes when she comes on screen?
As the show comes to a close, the final arc takes a cold turn, as he describes the treatment of a conspiracy theorist by the mental health services and for a brief moment I ached for him as he described the isolation of being the only person in the world to know what had been done. Douglas truly deserved the applause that came at the end of his tall tale this evening and quite honestly I loved his performance, once he had eased me into his fantastical world of escaped Nazis, Elvis workshops and the evils of Coca Cola. Were he a lesser performer, I would probably have sat cold throughout the show, but with his infectious enthusiasm for the bizarre and the frankly odd, he dragged me in and it was joyous.
Yes, the jokes are corny and they are what I would call proper Dad jokes. Do not confuse them with the awful cracker jokes that you tell over Christmas lunch; these are the sort of well crafted groaners worthy of Jimmy Carr. Yet for as silly as they are, they are used with a scalpel like precision and there are so many of them that it would be impossible to spot them all. However, Star Wars fans will love the parody of Episode Four. I would also say that his show is probably not for the very young, but a quick witted teenager should catch a lot of the references, although the jokes about Leon Trotsky may pass them by, despite their brilliance.
Tickets for this show are selling out fast, which is probably fully deserved. This is an inspired and original take on what can easily be chucked into a usually tired Christmas genre and I would recommend it as a lovely evening out, especially if you go into the theatre and leave your cynical, evidence based logic and Friedrich Nietzsche at the bar first.
Of Christmas Past runs at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 29th November
Image by Steve Ullathorne, with thanks