What Did the Reindeer See?

Kirsten Kearney found out at the opening night of Grimes & McKee’s new play

So, what did the reindeer see? That depends on whose perspective you have. If you’re Comet, up at the front on a non-foggy night (because otherwise, of course, it would be Rudolph) you get full screen views of the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and Kilkeel.

Not so good if you’re poor Donder. He spends Christmas Eve looking straight into Comet’s... 'posterior', or ‘arse!’, as Donder so nicely puts it.

It’s not easy being Santa when your reindeers’ only pastimes are playing darts and breaking into choruses of ‘Oh, we’re as thick as champ’. Or when you're denied your conjugal rights for six months.

What the Reindeer Saw is PR-tastic. You could write sentences like those above for weeks on end. It is every stereotype, Christmas carol and Give My Head Peace moment that NI has to offer, rolled into one rather long play.

Whether it works or not depends on the attitude that you take into the theatre. The Lyric are marketing this one for ‘Corporate Events’ and it would be the ideal entertainment to tag onto your office Christmas party, or evening after an afternoon spent in the pub.

In fact, the degree of hilarity experienced is probably in direct proportion to quantity of alcohol previously consumed. According to the guffaws filling the Lyric, not to mention a decent-sized standing ovation at the end, both Christmas and bottled cheer were in fine supply, in a play which seems to get funnier as it goes along.

Grimes and McKee must have had many an evening in the pub, or many sleepless nights, spent thinking up as many ‘elf’ puns as possible. My personal favourite was 'elfoplexy', followed closely by 'Bob Geldelf'. Spotting elfin words could be a good way to get through the play, if you don’t fall into the guffawing classes.

The comic duo do, however, have their fingers on the pulse. Another reindeer game could be to spot the topical and political allusions. From St Andrews to Donald Rumsfeld, Jamie’s school dinners to the human incapability to work a blackberry, this play is very 2006.

And let’s not forget the exciting ‘Match your elf to your least favourite politician/terrorist/paramilitary leader’ game. But it was as the culchies that Grimes and McKee shone. Not being a culchie, I didn’t appreciate the full extent of their genius (what is a 'clampet'?) but even I couldn’t fail to miss how brilliantly both Grimes and McKee capture and exaggerate the accents, facial expressions and attitudes of those from outside the city bounds.

The play is held together by a woman. Enter Rachel Tucker aka Mrs Claus, Vixen the Reindeer, Mariah Carelf and perhaps more that I have missed, in between her many costume changes. The best moment of the play was when, in 'Mariah Carelf' mode, she announces the Elfish Revolution in diva-esque blues style, much to the bemusement of her three more down to elf henchmen (see? It’s catching…).

Tucker's characters are strong, bolshy, occasionally sexy and most importantly, for a play whose actors often ‘feel a song coming on’, she can sing in tune.

The reindeers are slapstick meets Billy Elliot, Santa's main minder is American. Cornelius the official elf is, well, officious. The main man Trade Union rep, you wouldn’t want to cross on a dark night, and the elf mechanics sum up all that is sad about boys and their big shiny toys.

What What the Reindeer Saw does, it does very well. It's your all-singing, all-dancing Christmas extravaganza that makes you think you're in a pantomime with NI accents, more swearing and less sweets. Worth seeing? Yes. Just leave your cynicism at the bar.