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THE ELF WHO WAS SCARED OF CHRISTMAS

The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas

★★★★

Charing Cross Theatre

THE ELF WHO WAS SCARED OF CHRISTMAS

The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas

Charing Cross Theatre

Reviewed – 11th December 2020

★★★★

 

“This production is a heartfelt clawing back of the innocence that lies in the eyes of children”

 

Let’s face it, after the year we’ve experienced, we can all be forgiven for being a little bit scared of Christmas this winter. In fact, it’s safe to say that fear has entered the national psyche all round. But fear no more; help is at hand under the arches on the Embankment. Behind the doors of the Charing Cross Theatre, Neil McDermott and Gina Beck are ready to smash all our misgivings away in an hour long burst of energy, song, dance, storytelling and magical mayhem.

McDermott is ‘Figgy’ and Beck is ‘Cupcake’; two elves preparing for the Christmas frenzy. All is well in their happy-go-lucky world; Cupcake cheerily bidding ‘Good Morning’ to every household object and utensil around her. Until she flips the calendar (after greeting it, of course) over to the first of December. She lets out a scream and dives under a blanket. The children shiver, Figgy quivers. And so the tale begins. Cupcake is scared of Christmas but Figgy cannot understand why at first. After all, you can be scared of many things; spiders and monsters, darkness and dentists; even sprouts. But Christmas? What’s there to be scared of? Christmas is special for… let’s ask the children, shall we?… gingerbread men, hot chocolate, mince pies, snow, snowmen and snowball fights, brandy butter, sugar candy, pigs in blankets and, of course, presents.

It is this final word that triggers Cupcake’s anxiety. So, thenceforth, presents are referred to as ‘thingamajigs’. Until this point, the show seems to have been gliding along on one level, but then the allegories come thick and fast. Cupcake is not so much afraid of the presents themselves, but of delivering them. We can all relate to the increasing expectations and pressures that accompany Christmas. For many it is the hardest time of the year. Cupcake included. Figgy has his own problems too. He believes he has lost his power of magic. Cue a rollercoaster ride of mutual support, with phrases lifted from a shelfful of self-help books. But McDermott and Beck, who also scripted the piece, mask the messages in an absolute joy of a performance. With a nod to the kids and a wink to the parents there’s something for everyone. Amid the slapstick there are tender moments too. And (although it is no surprise given the two actors backgrounds) they both possess spectacular singing voices.

It’s true, some of the platitudes might be lost on the younger members of the audience, but they are spellbound. It’s a delight watching them watching the show: they believe in the magic that McDermott and Beck have. What their characters have forgotten at the beginning of the show is the wonder and joy of Christmas. We need reminding of that. This production is a heartfelt clawing back of the innocence that lies in the eyes of children.

As with all Christmas shows there is a strong element of audience participation, which is in no short supply. But Figgy and Cupcake need all the help they can get. Cinnamon dust sprinkled over an elf, apparently, restores its magic powers. “The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas” restores our belief in the magic of the festive season. The kids don’t need telling – it’s the adults that do. Listen to them – and listen to that inner child; and, above all, just go and have a good time.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography courtesy Al Bourne Productions

 


The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas

Charing Cross Theatre until 23rd December

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Violet | ★★ | January 2019
Amour | ★★★★ | May 2019
Queen Of The Mist | ★★★★ | August 2019
Soho Cinders | ★★★★ | October 2019
GHBoy | ★★★ | December 2020

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Vincent River
★★★★

Trafalgar Studios

Vincent River

Vincent River

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 21st May 2019

★★★★

 

“Mahy’s performance perfectly condenses an unstable and volatile mix of anger, vulnerability, belligerence and dependence”

 

Philip Ridley is a playwright whose finger is always on the pulse, and even though “Vincent River” was written at the birth of this century it has lost none of its punch. Unfortunately, this has as much to do with how slowly society changes as it does with the timeless quality of the writing. During the last five years, homophobic hate crime has reportedly been rising. What is seldom reported is the aftermath: the personal story that this play heart-breakingly throws into the spotlight.

Anita is in her new flat, having been forced to flee her previous home. A youth has wandered in through the door into her living room. He is Davey, wearing a black hoodie, a black eye and an even darker obsession with Anita whom he has been stalking for months; ever since Anita’s son, Vincent, was murdered by thugs in a disused railway station’s toilet. Over the next eighty minutes, these two characters fight to understand themselves and each other. Played out in real time the audience are drawn in so much that we feel like the third character in this drama.

The rhythm and melody of Ridley’s dialogue is a gift for the two actors, and under the assured direction of Robert Chevara, the pulse never wavers. Thomas Mahy plays Davey like a dangerous dog whose threat of menace and aggression can be swiftly curbed with a flash of Anita’s bared teeth. Mahy’s performance perfectly condenses an unstable and volatile mix of anger, vulnerability, belligerence and dependence. Yet the undoubted force that drives this piece is the charismatic Louise Jameson, with her matchlessly poignant portrayal of a mother suffering her worst nightmare. A naked study of grief for the loss of a son that is believable throughout. Her raw pain is the skeleton upon which she drapes cloaks of humour, scorn and even tenderness. We are riveted right up to the climax when she finally rips through her armour with a blood curdling howl.

Jameson and Mahy circle each other like wild cats on Nicolai Hart Hansen’s simple and effective set that conveys Anita’s new flat with just a sofa, some unpacked boxes and quite a few opened bottles of gin. But beneath the humdrum stillness of the surroundings runs the vicious undercurrent of Vincent’s murder. The overall effect is hypnotic and electrifying. This is one of Ridley’s more accessible scripts, rooted in reality rather than veering off into the surreal promiscuity or gothic gratuitousness he is known for. But it is no less provocative – in fact its naturalism strengthens the message. The honesty of these performers makes us question the honesty with which we lead our own lives. Truth hurts – but we need that pain in order to start the healing process.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


Vincent River

Trafalgar Studios until 22nd June

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Silk Road | ★★★★ | August 2018
Dust | ★★★★★ | September 2018
A Guide for the Homesick | ★★★ | October 2018
Hot Gay Time Machine | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Coming Clean | ★★★★ | January 2019
Black Is The Color Of My Voice | ★★★ | February 2019
Soul Sessions | ★★★★ | February 2019
A Hundred Words For Snow | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Admissions | ★★★ | March 2019
Scary Bikers | ★★★★ | April 2019

 

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