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Review Round-up: Is Get Santa! a Xmas Cracker?

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Anthony Neilson, best known for his “in yer face” plays on dark subjects such as child abuse, was a surprise choice to write and direct the Royal Court’s first-ever family Christmas show, Get Santa!, which opened in the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs this week (14 December 2010, previews from 1 December).

Written for children aged seven and up, Get Santa! follows a ten-year old girl, Holly, in her quest to find the perfect family, meeting a host of weird and wonderful characters along the way.

Running until 15 January 2011, it features music by Nick Powell, and a cast including Bill Buckhurst, Tom Godwin, Amanda Hadingue, Gabriel Quigley, David Sterne, Robert Stocks and newcomer Imogen Doel as Holly.

Michael Coveney

- "This may not sound like your typical Royal Court play for Christmas or indeed any time; until you remember this venue’s historic association with writers like NF Simpson and Ken Campbell. Neilson certainly loosens a few stays, even in this catholic-minded regimen of Dominic Cooke. The proscenium is wrapped in a huge red bow when you sit down, unravelling to reveal an all-red wall-papered set by Miriam Buether … The plot, involving plucked Santa hairs, paternal revelations and a gypsy curse, becomes a bit convoluted. But Neilson, directing his own play, creates a fantastically crazy scenario of repetitive Christmases where we are all locked into one continuous festive hell. It’s funny and disturbing because we know - or at least hope - it isn’t true.”

Dominic Maxwell
The Times

“Sure, Santa is tired and tetchy, an evil teddy bear cons a little girl and mankind is doomed to relive Christmas Day forever. But if you can buy into the slightly Rentaghost sensibility this beautifully unlikely play has heart to match its humour … Neilson brings the magic of a wild Christmas yarn into the domestic arena. We get spectacle - Santa’s silly son Bumblehole, played with perfectly pitched naivety by Tom Godwin, flies down from his sleigh through a skylight. We get puppetry - a spell from Santa’s magic beard means that Holly’s teddy is walking and talking and claiming, in a Russian accent, to be her dad, cursed by a gypsy to live forever in ‘this fluffy tomb’ … And we get songs by Nick Powell (who co-devised the story) that the cast break into to celebrate or denigrate the festive season … Neilson’s surprising, irreverent story ends with a warming message that the real gift of Christmas is to be thankful for what you’ve already got … Inside some cynical wrapping, this is the most properly Christmassy show of the season.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

“It is strange to discover children sitting in the stalls of the Royal Court … Dominic Cooke, the current artistic director, has quietly transformed the place, presenting intelligent and ambitious plays that reflect more accurately the lives of its predominantly middle-class audience … For long sections of Anthony Neilson’s play - and Neilson was one of the pioneers of in-yer-face theatre - I feared I had inadvertently swallowed LSD and was hurtling along on a terrifying acid trip … The kids were made of sterner stuff than your cowardly critic, either laughing uproariously or gripped by the disconcerting action, and Neilson directs his own play with undoubted flair, on a fabulously kitsch suburban home design by Miriam Buether … The songs, however, aren’t a patch on those in the RSC’s Matilda … This is an inventive and original children’s show, but I still felt an overpowering sense of relief when the festive bum trip ended.”

Fiona Mountford
Evening Standard

“Neilson has done a huge number of things right here, but crucially he has centred his story on the poignant fact of a little girl wanting to make her broken family whole again. His lively production rings emotionally true throughout, meaning it gets away with the rather under-explained allegory of pleasant stepfather Bernard (Robert Stocks) being a talking dog. If we didn’t warm to Holly herself, Get Santa! would be well and truly got, but 27-year-old Doel makes a theatrical debut of remarkable note. Dressed in a yellow and black jumper like a charismatic bumble bee, she buzzes around the stage, stinging the adults with the unwavering logic of a child and eventually learning some important life lessons in a pleasingly unsaccharine way.”

Michael Billington

"Its heroine, Holly, is a tart-tongued ten-year-old whose only Christmas wish is to meet her real dad: a reasonable request since her stepfather is actually a dog. To achieve her goal, Holly plans to trap Santa as he comes down the chimney. Instead she finds herself lumbered with his incompetent son, Bumblehole, whose mangled magic endows her friendly teddy with the gift of speech … Even if the story is somewhat serpentine, Neilson neatly overturns the sentimental Christmas cliches. Santa, when we get to meet him, is tired and grumpy and especially dreads delivering to Scotland (‘Is the body-armour packed?’ he tetchily asks). A fluffy teddy bear turns out to be a malevolent hoaxer. And Neilson wrings every ounce of humour out of the despair of adults stuck in a time-warp Christmas and forced to give and receive the same presents day after day and live in a permanent state of comatose gluttony … Even if the show is a bit too knowing for my taste, it will doubtless appeal to sophisticated seven-year-olds and upwards under no illusions about the reality of Santa.”

Paul Taylor

"This reviewer once wrote that ‘Anthony Neilson and fun-for-all-the-family Christmas cheer go together about as amicably as the Val Doonican Songbook and Irvine Welsh.’ … So Neilson is somewhat incongruous casting as author of this venue's first ever Yuletide show for children. In the event, he's turned up trumps with Get Santa!, a hilariously inventive and unconventional extravaganza which, with its time-warp antics, suggests that it's a mercy Christmas comes but once a year … The Groundhog Day horror of the situation (giving and receiving pile-ups of identical gifts in an ever blearier atmosphere of desperate merriment) is a hoot in the author's vivid, stylish production which is itself designed like a huge, lurid pink present … The show is full of eccentric delights, from David Sterne's grouchy Santa (who, on his reluctant way to Scotland, inquires ‘Is the body armour packed?’) to Robert Stocks' endearingly canine step dad who dresses the Christmas tree with strips of meat because he can't eat chocolate. Warmly recommended.”


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