The Night Before Christmas (***)
Eden Court, Inverness
I DON’T quite know how to approach this one, in all honesty – I expected something entirely different to what I ended up getting.
Eden Court CREATIVE’s “adult” festive show the Night Before Christmas was billed as an “anti-panto” for adults – a cynical antidote to the treacle and simplistic joy of pantomime.
Foolish as I am, I still expected panto of a sort – a gnarled, raucous and ribald subversion of those hoary old tropes that have sunk into our festive consciousness.
What we got instead was a play. A one act, one setting play devoid of any attempts at panto trappings. Hm.
Yet we cannot judge something on what we expect it to be, but rather what it is. The story it tells unfolds over a single night – guesses about which night that is on the back of a postcard please.
Gary, who works in a warehouse and fences toys on the side, calls in his friend Simon, pleasingly cynical, with the most bizarre of claims: he’s caught an elf. A junkie elf. Ho ho ho, how subversive!
Over the course of a night, the pair have to work out whether the elf is who he really says he is (spoiler alert: he isn’t); deal with the arrival of Cherry, a prostitute who Gary has promised a Power Ranger to; and deliver speeches about the evils of capitalism, each word clunking into place from a different, much more self-aware production.
There are a good amount of laughs too – the script leans slightly too heavily on swearwords and sex acts, but there’s some genuinely clever ideas here about our relationship to the festive season, and where Christmas spirit (allegedly) comes from.
Yet while I left the play initially feeling quite positive on the whole thing, time has soured me on this production – and forgive me for going full Grinch here.
A great deal of this play deals with the crass over-commercialisation of the festive season, and how difficult it is to live up to the bombardment of advertisements that prey on the impulsive nature of kids to demand these overpriced baubles.
Which is great, and worthy, and a topic worthy of being explored! But this show wants to have its Christmas pudding and eat it too – it ostensibly highlights the plight of the working class, while at the same time portraying the people that populate the play – those who supposedly suffer under these conditions – as a weary cynic, a prostitute, a thief, and a drug addict.
It leans a little too much into this voyeuristic idea of “the poor” – a middle class idea of what those are like – that should have gone out of date with the first Rowntree Report back in 1902. At points it was like watching a more sympathetic and mawkish version of those execrable Channel 5 documentaries with the word “benefits” in their titles.
So at the end, I’m left with something I didn’t expect, and something I can’t quite recommend – a production that for all its jokes about sex, drugs and festive spirit, believed it had something to say without quite understanding how to say it.