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Who's Holiday starring Miz Cracker at Southwark Playhouse – review

The adults-only Dr Seuss' The Grinch spinoff runs until 7 January

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Miz Cracker in Who's Holiday
© Mark Senior

Remember Cindy Lou Who? She was the super-cute, pretzel-coiffed, snub-nosed little girl who befriended the Grinch in Dr Seuss's not-quite fairytale. Well, in this 2017 one-person off-Broadway comedy, Cindy Lou is all grown up. Not only that, she's living in a trailer, has an unhealthy relationship with liquor and pills, and has served time in prison for killing her husband. Oh, and that friendship with the furry green Christmas-hater? Not as innocent as Dr Seuss would have had you believe…

Welcome to Matthew Lombardo's rambunctious bastardisation of an American fable that was slightly off-kilter to begin with, but is here reinvented as something subversively funny, occasionally pretty sick, yet still couched in the tum-ti tum-ti rhymes that have enchanted generations of children. Who's Holiday, which sees Cindy Lou chatting to us as she preps her trailer for an onslaught of Christmas Eve guests, feels pitched somewhere between a confessional and a drag show (the original New York production featured Olivier winner Lesli Margherita whereas Kirk Jameson's sparkling UK premiere stars Drag Race alumna Miz Cracker). It's a solid hour's entertainment that feels a little bit naughty but ultimately espouses the importance of family and human connection.

Miz Cracker, looking rather like Madonna in her "True Blue" phase, is gorgeous: tremendously likeable and able to point a comic moment with just a pout or aside, this is a lovely UK theatre debut. She probably makes Lombardo's amusing but hardly revelatory text, which often comes off as a bit sub-Hedwig And The Angry Inch as Cindy Lou catalogues the litany of disasters and ill-advised life choices that brought her to this kitschy trailer, seem funnier than it actually is. She could afford to amp up the pathos a little more though. The outrageous humour would work even better if we could believe in the pain that lurks beneath it. The over-mic'ing also sometimes robs the script and central performance of nuance.

Jameson and his designers (Justin Williams - set, Kieron Johnson - lighting) have done a fabulous job of creating a crazy, camp alternative universe. The setting is both glam and a little seedy, where an unsuspecting audience member can be invited onstage for a lethal-looking cocktail, then be randomly verbally abused for the rest of the show during Cindy Lou's scattershot flights of fancy, and where a rap number and sundry Ted talks come right out of nowhere. Despite the inevitable cynicism engendered by such a flamboyant but lacerating treatment of old-school Americana, Who's Holiday turns out to have a pretty big heart. No spoilers, but Cindy Lou gets her Christmas wish, and it would be a very jaded soul who doesn't get a little bit misty-eyed at the conclusion.

Casting a drag star inevitably alters the focus and tone of a piece that, while slight, has a genuine connection to popular culture and a surprisingly wholesome agenda: it would be fascinating to see how differently it plays with a cis female actress. In all honesty, it's not as witty as it could be, and the Seuss-esque rhyming is sometimes an obstacle to real feeling or indeed comedy. Miz Cracker is a treat though, and anyone looking for Christmas entertainment with an off-beat twist should definitely consider a trip to Southwark.