Review – Get Santa! – Royal Court

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A new year, a new resolution to focus my reviewing on the most relevant shows, and yet here it is January and I’m reviewing a show that is basically way past its sell date. I actually had no intention of seeing Get Santa whatsoever, as it sounded like some cutesy crap I wanted to steer well away from, especially with an adult (Imogen Doel) playing a ten year old lead Holly. And, come on, Christmas is over. I don’t need my heart warmed. I need bitter. I need cold. I need withered branches far from the promise of spring.

And yet, I also need cheap, and an offer came out through the Royal Court’s Twitter account (“£5 SPECIAL OFFER 6 Jan 5pm 7 Jan 7pm, code HOLLY5 “), and that wouldn’t be enough as I won’t waste my time with bad theater … but the word on the street was … well, certainly positive enough to warrant £5. And I had nothing planned for the first week in January. And … £5.

I’m pleased to report that not only did I get my £5 worth, I’m able to say that Get Santa actually rates as the best original, non-Panto, non-Nutcracker holiday theatrical entertainment I’ve seen as years, as radically original as expectation-overturning as Elf was as a holiday movie. It also satisfied my desire for some cleansing bitter flavors in my diet, as rather than being adorable and sugary, it rather blatantly looked into the many ways Christmas really never lives up to our expectations and is frequently a source of disappointments. Holly isn’t a cute little kiddie who needs a big hug: she’s an angry little girl, a force of chaos like an Eloise, living in a world with rules of reality that run somewhere between Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss. And I have no idea how she pulled it off, but Doel actually got the energy, sulkiness, and raw intelligence of a ten year old wrapped up in a way that, as an audience member, while I was aware that at times she was mugging and being excessively silly, I was still able to buy into the age of the character she was portraying, and thus settle down into enjoying the play.

To be honest, you’re going to need a strong ability to suspend disbelief in order to be able to buy this play, as the characters are not just Holly and Santa Claus (David Sterne, deliciously burnt out), but a dog (Robert Stocks) and a talking teddy bear (this is an actual teddy bear and not a human being in a bear suit). But somehow the entire ball of weirdness, from the frightening pink wallpaper to the chic drunk grandma (Amanda Hadingue) and Santa Claus and an adult playing a ten year old and “magic” all comes together and makes sense, so much that when Santa gets into an argument with the teddy bear about whether or not gypsies can cast curses, it actually all works within the logic of the play (and of course there are forest penguins, who could possibly doubt a stuffed animal that only lives for the love of its little girl?).

I loved the warped reality rollercoaster ride that was Get Santa, and while I saw it too late for it to be one of the highlights of 2010, it was without a doubt the best Christmas play I saw this season and left a million lesser works gasping by the side of the road like a Wetherspoons roast dinner eating its heart out after a plate full of goose, stuffing, and gravy ran it over. I think it even knocked Albee’s Sylvia out of the water when it came to taking the absurd and making it work, all while keeping it just below the level that would have made it unsuitable for an eight year old (although if your kid talks during plays LEAVE THEM HOME PLEASE). And, come on, it had a bacon tree. How much better could Christmas get?

(This review is for the 7 PM performance that took place on Tuesday, January 4th, 2011. Get Santa continues through January 15th at the Royal Court.)

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