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The Night Before Christmas

Steve Marmion's production of Anthony Neilson's ''The Night Before Christmas'' opened at the Soho Theatre last week

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Craig Gazey and Navin Chowdhry
© Francis Loney

If you're managing a warehouse on Christmas Eve and an elf tries to break in, what are you going to do? Loner Gary (Navin Chowdhry) decides to fend him off, tie him up and get old mate Simon (Craig Kelly) to come over. You'd think he'd just call the police (which is exactly what Simon wants him to do), but Gary has convinced himself that Elf (Craig Gazey) is actually… an elf, and not a man dressed up as one.

"You can't go by looks, Gary," Simon quips, "has Operation Yewtree taught you nothing?"

Writer Anthony Neilson's skill here in this unlikely 90-minute musical is in balancing things out so that you're never completely sure whether Elf is indeed a magical being, or just a skanky drug addict with a toolbag to hand (bearing in mind that this is theatre, where anything can be true).

"Speaking for myself," says Elf, when asked about the use of sleighs in this technological age, "I'm a moderniser, but the company have decided that tradition is more important than efficiency."

This, unsurprisingly, results in frequent hilarity from some of the many zingy lines, along with a great deal of rude language ("you towering clit" being one particularly gasp-worthy example). Suffice to say, this is not suitable for children.

Elf describes a world where Powdered Christmas Feeling ("street name PCF") makes Christmas better for kids (or virgins, though this potential plot blackhole is carefully retreated from), and Gary wants to believe him, but as time goes by, and Elf's need for a fix (whether that's of heroin or PCF, we're never sure) increases, his story slowly begins to unravel – or does it?

Kelly, looking hot to trot with a rather lovely beard and hair combo, does a good job as exasperated Simon, full of contradictions and loneliness, desperate for drugs and, more importantly, redemption. He proves to have one of the stronger singing voices of the night - Chowdhry is less successful at this, but the two bounce off each other well, and have strong chemistry.

Gazey is perfect casting as Elf, thanks to his spot-on comic timing and low-key attitude to the character; watching him feels like a masterclass in Royle Family-esque acting. As prostitute Cherry, hunting for Christmas presents promised by Gary, Rebecca Atkinson makes a very strong impression, displaying everything from excellent singing to dancing skills – never have the splits looked so simple - to a great sense of nuance and versatility in her acting.

This is very silly stuff, but it's also huge fun, and it's obvious that the cast are having a ball. Very much recommended.