Mr. Swallow and co. are back at The Soho with a bold, ridiculous and outrageously clever take on everyone’s (least) favourite Christmas classic!

Credit: Matt Crockett

It’s a version of A Christmas Carol in which Scrooge is played as Santa, Santa’s shirking his duties for the rest of the year, and the cast and creatives repeatedly break character to try to figure out what on Earth’s actually going on. What results is a hilariously self-aware take-down of the idea of the play which allows us to say what we’ve all been thinking since sitting through our first politely faithful production: It’s quite a boring story. Add to this the woefully over-trodden tale of Jesus in the barn and the maddening cliché of ‘We’ve got to get the presents out on time!’ and you could end up with a recipe for total tedium. However, it turns out that, just as if you mix all the colours together you make a sort-of muddy purple, if you mix all the browns and beiges together, then chuck the paints at a wall, knock the wall down and open up an outdoor roller-disco trampoline centre instead, Christmas can still be fun, fresh and overwhelmingly funny!

This is a hard show to review as it’s such a tour-de-force of metatheatrical silliness, gleefully imaginative songs and non-stop witty wordplay — one that for all its layered deconstruction of Dickens’ original still manages to maintain its heart and magic. It constantly surprises by tearing up the rules of the game and making them the butt of the joke. As Mr. Swallow rightly points out of Scrooge: ‘Michael Cain did it with a pig and a frog’ — surely after this no one would try to take the role seriously? Well, after this show, the idea seems positively ludicrous! Aren’t we all a bit too smart for that? A little too full of life and joy and beans and wisecracks and all the other things that make spending time with our nearest and dearest such a joy? Or maybe it’s rejecting the idea that any form of reverence or conventional treatment of tradition is totally unnecessary. We can keep all the old stories, but make them our own: Mary’s in labour with a very stressy nurse who doesn’t want to ‘put too much pressure on, but this means a lot to a lot of people’; Rudolph is the last living soul of a dying population of reindeer who’ve been worked in the cold to the bone; Jacob Marley is simply an elf: Elf Marley.

Beneath all these characters is another layer of comedy: the characters who play them. Scrooge is played by Mr. Swallow (Nick Mohammed), the forgetful, chatty and deeply annoying star who winds everyone up and makes every professional blunder under the sun; Rudolph is Jonathan (Keiran Hodgson), a simpering actor who considers himself above all this nonsense and desperately asks for more lines in every scene, only to be told: ‘Sorry but this isn’t [technically] a scene’; Mr. Goldsmith (David Helms) is Mr. Swallow’s producer and partner (‘all the P’s: paranoid schizophrenic’), who plays the belaboured job of embodying all the ghosts (who are all dressed in the same tacky ghost outfit) and pushing the plot along with classically wry delight. And then there is Rochelle: Sarah Hadland. Where do I even begin? She’s sensational; it’s camp; it’s bizarre — one of the most ridiculously absurd comedy character concepts I’ve ever seen with something of a Jenna Maroney from 30 Rock but with a wonderfully determined emphasis on Cats. She’s a musical theatre star who’s on retainer for Andrew Lloyd Webber, stepping in to play any part in any play where the long line of understudies have all fallen sick to some such nightmare as toxoplasmosis. She’s also desperate to plug her Christmas album, which includes misspelt titles as ‘Satan Baby’. Her song: ‘I Love My Turkey’ sees her gobbling on the stage — it’s insane and the comedy is perfectly pitched. I’m in awe of her talent and baulked like a farmyard bird.

Credit: Matt Crockett

In all, I was overwhelmed by the level of lyrical dexterity, mind-blowing structure and sheer abundance of play at work. It didn’t let up, not for a single second. The script is bonkers but so tight, and moves with such pace and verve under Matt Peover’s uncompromising direction. To achieve this level of self-awareness and ‘shoddiness’ requires so much craft, and every component is tight as a screw. I want the Christmas album immediately!

It’s another hit for a stellar team, and I think everyone should go. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s the best Christmas show I have ever seen! Nick Mohammed is an absolute wonder, and hurrah for Christmas-ish.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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