Brendan Deeds finds a healthy cyncicism in The Santaland Diaries
If I must endure ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’ one more time, there will be bloodshed.
The unremitting mirth, the saccharine sentiments, the endless queues that stretch on and on, leaving the checkout till a distant blur on the horizon: this is the stuff which comes but once a year but feels like it lasts forever.
If you’re like me, Brothers and Sisters, let’s say ‘Christmas-sceptic’, then take heart. C21’s production of The Santaland Diaries may be just the antidote for all this seasonally-induced cynicism.
When asked to see three festive plays in one week I was relieved to discover that the second on the list was David Sedaris’ sardonic account of his time spent as one of Santa’s elves in Macy’s flagship New York store.
In 2001, Sedaris was named Time Magazine’s ‘Humourist of the Year’ for his wry wit and satirical eye.
As Tuesday night’s audience found their seats, Christmas jingles played over the speakers. On stage stood an inflatable candy cane arch adorned with the words ‘Happy Holidays’, a monument to tacky winter grottos and Xmas tat everywhere.
However, the music slowly died, the canes deflated and a figure, clad in a grey overcoat, stood onstage sneering at the audience. I knew instantly this was going to be my kind of Christmas play.
Just as the candy canes are deflated so too does Sedaris' writing deflate the hypocrisies of Christmas. We’re told how at this time of good will to all men, people are still as flawed as they are the rest of the year.
We hear how some African-Americans asked that they have a Santa more their colour and when told that the Santa they had been shown to was an African-American Santa they insisted 'Well, he’s not black enough!'
This sentiment is echoed by a white couple who ask for a white Santa, 'You know, white, like us!'
We hear how some parents neglect their child’s concerns and try to direct the time in Santa’s grotto like it is their own personal movie.
In his velvet green smock, red tights and fur-trimmed jingle hat, ‘Crumpet’ (each pointy-eared Grotto employee must chose an elf-name), played by Stephen Beggs, gets hoots of laughter from the audience.
However, his jokes are barbed and the humour tends to be on the dark side. 'Have you ever noticed how Santa is an anagram of Satan?' he muses.
Beggs not only brings this disgruntled elf to life but the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies he adopts when impersonating some of Crumpet’s fellow elves and Santas are so deftly sketched that, although there is only ever one actor on stage, we are introduced to a whole store of characters.
The Santaland Diaries is a hilarious comedy and one you shouldn’t miss. If you‘re a Christmas-sceptic you’ll love it’s black humour and, heck, even if you actually quite enjoy Christmas you'll love this play as well.
This is a well acted, sharply written show and even though the wit is caustic at times there are genuinely moving moments at the end whenever we see the cynicism crumble at the sight of genuine affection and goodwill.
Something for everyone? I think so. A ticket for this play is the perfect Christmas gift.