For the first time ever, the Royal Court theatre – best known for its edgy new writing and obscenely young writers – has created a family show for Christmas. But with Anthony Neilson at the helm and gorgeous design from award-winning Miriam Buether, this was never going to be a run of the mill pantomime.
Instead, Neilson’s surreal writing style and endless imagination has created Get Santa!, a hilarious, quirky family tale with a set that transforms from a garish chocolate box home to a delicious mess, with Quality Streets, mince pies and magic dust covering the floor.
Based in the Finnegan household, ten-year-old Holly only ever has one thing on her Christmas list. Desperate to meet her estranged father, every year she asks Father Christmas to bring her dad down the chimney and every year he fails. Fed up of rubbish Christmas days, this year Holly decides there is only one thing for it, to get Santa!
Setting up elaborate traps direct from the school of Home Alone, Holly prepares to meet Santa and hold him hostage until he agrees to tell her where she can find her dad, but when Santa’s useless son Bumblehole drops in instead and Holly learns of the mystical, magic beard, plans go horribly awry.
With a talking Russian bear, a meat covered Christmas tree, a canine step-father called Bernard and a Father Christmas revealed to be a sleazy, vulgar old man looking to retire, Neilson has created a surreal comedy with plenty of festive spirit. As in all good Christmas shows, family is the most important thing – even if your stepdad is a dog and takes himself for regular walks with a telling plastic bag popped in his jeans pocket – and Holly learns the consequences of her meddling the hard way.
Making her stage debut as the precocious and sullen Holly, Imogen Doel is captivating. Avoiding the irritation that often occurs when adults take on the challenging task of playing children, Doel’s performance is just subtle enough with the actress employing a slight, sweet lisp and childish gestures, tugging down her black tutu skirt and tucking her hands into the corners of her bee-striped jumper as she concentrates, tongue poking out of her mouth and her welly-clad legs always fidgeting.
The supporting cast helps to pull together the frantic comedy, with Tom Godwin as the determined Bumblehole – dressed like an indie elf in skinny green trousers and Chelsea boots – and a flustered Gabriel Quigley shining as Holly’s slightly frazzled domestic goddess of a mum. The star of the show however is undoubtedly Teddy, puppeteered by Doel and Chand Martinez who camouflages into the garish wrapping paper walls in a matching pink swirly suit. Devious and conspiring, Teddy talks with a Borat accent that thrills kids and adults alike and truly comes to life with Martinez’s skilled controls.
With boisterous, fun, tongue-in-cheek songs, a reindeer jumper-wearing group of backing singers, the delightfully mischievous Holly and a level of silliness that could almost be described as sophisticated, Get Santa! is a festive tale for the modern age.