The Night Before Christmas

Anthony Neilson

Riverside Studios

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

Possibly the main attraction of the revival of Anthony Nielson's 1995 Christmas comedy The Night Before Christmas is the appearance of Bianca from EastEnders. Many people will flock to Hammersmith to have a chance to see the red-headed Patsy Palmer having a great deal of fun as the barely-dressed "scrubber", Cherry.

This is a very slight play lasting less than an hour and by Nielson's usual high standards is a light entertainment rather than one of his searing dramas such as Stitching or The Censor or the high farce of The Lying Kind, currently playing at the Royal Court.

He still manages to combine some very funny lines with an oblique view of Christmas, capitalist-style, and some social commentary, albeit less strident than he usually delivers.

The plot is based on the premise that Gary (Neil Howman), a barrow-boy selling Christmas tat, has captured a short man in green clothing breaking into his warehouse. Neil Boorman, with a broad Lancastrian accent, claims that he is an elf sent by Santa to deliver presents to the worthy.

When Chris Porter as Simon, Gary's best mate, turns up he is aghast that Gary could believe that elves exist. Eventually, even he is sucked into the story by the charming little junkie who claims that he is addicted to "Christmas feeling powder".

The play tends to run in fits and starts with long slow passages followed by sudden dramatic moments. Most of these fall to Miss Palmer as Cherry. From her first appearance at her best customer's warehouse, she lays into him much more like a nagging wife than the object of pleasure.

Eventually, the three human characters learn a little about themselves and have their wishes fulfilled by their little elfish friend and Christmas comes with good cheer all round. This is very much an adult fairy tale that is largely worth seeing for the strutting performance by "Bianca".