Get Santa!

Anthony Neilson
Northern Stage
Northern Stage, Newcastle

Tessa Parr and Gary Kitching Credit: Pamela Raith
Tessa Parr and Teddy Credit: Pamela Raith
Tom Walton and Tessa Parr Credit: Pamela Raith
Tessa Parr, James Ryland and Tom Walton Credit: Pamela Raith

It's no secret that, for quite a number of years, the main house Christmas productions (for the over-7s) at Northern Stage have been—shall we say?—a little hit and miss, so it's a real pleasure to be able to say that Anthony Neilson's Get Santa! is a hit—a palpable hit!

Holly is ten and there's only one thing she wants for Christmas: to meet her real dad. That's all she's wanted for years but, even though she's always been good and let Santa know in good time what she wants, she keeps getting things like iPods and iPads, so this year she going to take Santa prisoner and force him to get her what she wants. And her complicated (convoluted) plan works perfectly—except that she doesn't capture Santa but his son Bumblehole, whose name does rather sum him up.

If that isn't odd enough, her stepfather is a dog, Bernard, complete with floppy ears and tail, who decorates the Christmas tree, not just with fairylights, but also with meat and sausages. Well, obviously! He's a dog!

Oh yes, and her best friend is a massive teddy bear (which had been left on the doorstep with a note saying it was a present from her dad)!

It's a world which is reminiscent of Neilson's The Wonderful World of Dissocia where we are inside the head of the main character (he calls it experiential theatre) and what is really great about it is that it works equally well in a children's Christmas show. It even picks up explicitly on the theme of one of his most harrowing plays, the 1991 Normal: The Düsseldorf Ripper, in which he explores just what it means to be "normal".

But this is turning into an academic exploration of Neilson's work which is really not very appropriate! Suffice it to say that it is a very unusual Christmas show which is a delightful romp; full of music and magic, funny, touching and appealing equally to kids and adults.

And Lorne Campbell's production brings out the best of the script.

Tessa Parr is the ten-year-old Holly, all long legs, manic energy, determination—and not a little petulance. It's Holly's world we're in and Parr lives it, dominating the stage.

Full of equally manic energy is Tom Walton as Bumblehole, desperate to prove himself to his dad, Santa (James Ryland), who really wants to retire but isn't at all certain that his son is ready to take over.

Northern Stage regular Gary Kitching is Bernard and he captures the essence of being a dog, tugging at the audience's heartstrings with his doglike devotion and sadness, especially when he takes himself off for his walk with his poop-bags and lead.

Mam (Paula Penman) and Gran (Jane Holman, who seems to have cornered the NE market in rock 'n' roll grannies!) seem the most normal, although Gran does point out early on that no family is, in fact, normal. Everyone is a bit weird!

Certainly not normal is Teddy (Scott Turnbull, buried within a massive costume) who speaks with a Russian accent ("Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear"—Shakespeare gets everywhere!) who, starting as a soft toy, becomes more and more sinister... But to say any more would be a bit of a spoiler.

Add in a group of carboard cut-out snowmen (shades of South Park) who often appear in the windows of the Advent Calendar wallpapered living room, designed by Garance Marneur, and Thomas the musician (who is, incidentally, also sound designer Aly Macrae) and you have the most odd-ball cast ever assembled for a Christmas show.

But what a great show, intelligently written and very funny, imaginatively directed and beautifully performed. What more can you ask?

Reviewer: Peter Lathan