The Night Before Christmas – Neilson Style

Written for What’s On Stage

T’was the night before Christmas and all through the (ware)house not a creature was stirring, not even a junky elf. Doesn’t sound right? Welcome to The Night Before Christmasaccording to Antony Neilson; a world where ‘Christmas feeling’ is a narcotic and prostitutes give hand jobs to get presents for their children. In their production at the intimate Barons Court Theatre, The New Actors Company deal with this scrooge-fest sweetly if a little clumsily at times.

Genial Gary has called his fabulously skeptical best friend, Simon, to his warehouse at 11pm on Christmas Eve. Needless to say Simon is not impressed, his annoyance turning to anger when the cause of the call is revealed to be an elf, caught by Gary apparently in the middle of a heist. Is he an elf or a junky thief, or a junky elf? The possibilities are endless as Gary, Simon and Gary’s squeeze Cherry play detective and find out much more than they bargained for.

Neilson’s language is sharp and darkly witty as he laces his barbarity with an inherent gentlemanly flair. The language of these supposed dregs of society is absurdly eloquent, with Simon at points channeling a slightly perturbed Noel Coward and Gary and Cherry debating the philosophies of parenthood with Zen-like self-awareness. This lends the play a fantasy-like quality; at its heart it is a beautifully warped urban fairytale.

Director Robert Laycock handles this spiky text with care but could do with a bit more relaxed flair to really get it to really fly. Daniel Souter and Jay Alwyn bounce off each other nicely as Gary and Simon and Caroline Steiner’s Cherry inspires genuine empathy at points. However, all-in-all the style is too presentational: the fact that they are ‘acting’ is at the forefront of everything they do. Perhaps unexpectedly the most believable of the cast isThomas Shirley, whose otherworldly silent elf is a beautiful example of the simple power of a wide-eyed stare and the confidence to do very little.

It could do with some polish and more interplay from its actors, but at a tidy one hour long, this Night Before Christmas never bores, with Neilson’s wonderfully subversive text speaking for itself in the midst of this small but neatly formed production. A fun, if slightly disturbing, night at the theatre.

Running till 03 January 2010


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