Review: How to Catch a Krampus (Pleasance Theatre)
Cabaret group Sink the Pink stage its first full blown Christmas show
Well, ain't this fabulous? In what could be a new milestone for London's revived cabaret scene, a drag collective founded in an East End social club in 2008 is now set to thrill punters night after night with its first ever theatre show in the city. Sink the Pink have been very good queens for ten years – and their reward this Christmas is a six-week residency at the Pleasance Theatre.
How to Catch a Krampus is a spooky musical based on the myth of a horned demon which punishes naughty children each December 25th – a kind of reverse Father Christmas. Drag queen Ginger Johnson writes, directs, and stars in this antidote to the usual family-friendly festive fare. So, as well as the seasonal panto gags, prepare for blood, guts – and some kinky Morris dancing.
Johnson plays a spirit medium navigating the underworld of Victorian London in search of a lost boy – and the evil Krampus who ensnared him. Sink the Pink's famous club nights are renowned for an 'anything goes' policy – which is also in force for this wildly entertaining night of camped-up horror. Things don't always make sense, but nobody seems to care: this loose plot is secondary to the show's many pastiche acts, introduced one by one in time-honoured cabaret style.
Among the funniest in this eclectic assortment are a buffoonish mime of a Mozart opera; a tango which pays homage to sadomasochism; and a medley of Christmas singles past which culminates – naturally – with the chart-topping hard rock of Rage Against the Machine in 2009. Not the sort of stuff you're likely to see on RuPaul's Drag Race any time soon.
While one or two jokes are a bit laboured, the show's urge to repeatedly poke fun at many different types of theatre and performance are firmly rooted in the cabaret tradition, and it's a pleasurable thing to see this one-time fringe troupe now try something so ambitious on a major London stage.
The star turn from drag veteran Lavinia Co-op was particularly enjoyable. Approaching her seventh decade, she is ravishing in the role of a Moll Flanders-type: an unrepentant convict who recounts a lifetime of crime on the eve of her execution. Perhaps there is a bit of the real Lavinia in the stories of discrimination that the character says she's faced down the years.
But much of the praise for this wig-raising evening goes to Johnson herself. The compere of the night is full of voice, magnificent of dress, and assured even in mishaps. The live musicians, too, prove superbly adaptable to those accidental moments which lend so much to the performances.
It's no easy thing to scale an underground art form up to a large venue like this, but How to Catch a Krampus is no sell-out. It's niche and esoteric – and even if these traits do sometimes mar the plot-based clarity you might expect of 'proper theatre', at least the show feels pure.
Not pure in every way, of course. The crowning glory is a decidedly not-safe-for-work parody of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" – with a slightly wince-inducing line about a sword. If it all gets a bit much, the venue promises that there are first-aiders on hand in the theatre (yes, really). Fortunately, we witnessed no emergency call-outs; only a very merry Krampus for all concerned.