Of Christmas Past

Douglas Walker - Tobacco Factory

There is a notice pinned to the theater door, where it normally warns you about flashing lights and bad language.

"Warning. This production questions the existence of Father Christmas."

I must admit I had no idea who Douglas Walker was when I booked this show, or indeed what kind of production I was letting myself in for. He clearly has a bit of a local cult following -- he had sold out the Tobacco Factory's smaller Spielman stage three nights running and seemed to know a fair proportion of the audience by name. (He greets everyone at the door at the end of the show like a vicar.) He's got a long CV involving podcasts, the Edinburgh Fringe and an acting stint at the National. 

Not quite sure how to describe the evening without giving away all the jokes and spoiling all the twists. It's a one man show, so it could be described as stand-up or a story-telling; but Mr Walker runs through so many characters and voices and runs about the stage and mimes so much that it's probably best thought of as a short play with one man doing all the roles. It begins with him dead-panning a speech; as if we are in for something fairly serious and thought-provoking: what if you actually met Father Christmas. Not a man in a suit; not an actor; not a painting -- the actual Father Christmas. And then: what if you met Father Christmas and then killed him? 

Starting in 1917, he proceeds to run through an increasingly surreal conspiracy theory based on the idea that Father Christmas is real, or at any rate "real". The story is carried forward by sheer inventiveness, audacity, and a lot of silly voices. (He has a particularly nice line in doing both ends of a telephone conversation in two different accents.) His stage persona is earnest, seeming to want convince us of the barking mad theory; and maintaining a straight face even when the audience is applauding them most extreme of "unintentional" puns. When Leon Trotsky becomes part of the story, we are told he sits down and has a glass of sherry "With his two Minsk Spies."

It is one of those performances which seems to lightly touch on a lot of quite sensible thoughts while the main object of the exercise is to be very silly indeed. So yes; Father Christmas is both a kind old man and a symbol of capitalism; yes, the best way of keeping a secret is to have a lunatic shouting it from the rooftops; and yes, the scary thing about conspiracy stories is when you find out that everyone else knows the truth too but isn't saying. 

But mostly: is it really that far-fetched to think that Santa's toys are made by Elvis? 

1 comment:

Richard Worth said...

I am reminded of the first episode of 'Sandman' where Burgess tries to summon and imprison Death but captures Dream by mistake. I will show you terror in a handful of snow.