Skip to main content

Review of The Night Before Christmas, performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Maidwell Hall (Avenue Campus), Northampton

Following the prim and proper telling of Cinderella performed by the latest batch of third years in front of a theatre of under tens the day before, the next day we were hit with Anthony Neilson's very different The Night Before Christmas. Dispensing of Cinderella's Mutt and Jeff, we found ourselves witnessing e(l)ffing and jeffing as this adult panto was performed by a quartet of students.

This was my first experience of an adult panto, also here described as an anti-panto, with good reason. Between the added swearing, this short and snappy play, barely thirty minutes, attempts to destroy any spirit of Christmas, even going as far as to suggest that the "spirit" is actually a drug peddled by Father Christmas and his army of Elf helpers, cocaine-like spirit in fact, where perhaps even the elves shoot up for the buzz.

As this play opens, we are in a shady, dodgy warehouse, full of potentially illicit goods (which also conveniently provides many of the local constabularies), and owner Gary (Alexander Forrester-Coles), has captured an "Elf" (Radostin Radev) maybe breaking in, maybe just delivering goods at Christmas (why to a warehouse, adds obvious suspicion). Called in to help is Gary's mate Simon (Jac Burbidge), arriving inexplicably all Arthur Dent, in his pyjamas. Finally completing our quartet is the bolshy Cherry (Kate Morgan-Jones), all at Gary for her kid's Power Rangers toys that he promised to get hold off for her.

This whole show is really great fun, full of great (and very often) rude lines, it is also helped enormously by some brilliantly timed performances from the cast. Gary is played in a typical assured style of a wideboy by Forrester-Coles, yet somehow making us believe that he could really be taken in by what most certainly appears to be a thief pretending to be something more fantastical, very nicely played.

Burbidge meanwhile as Gary's mate, truly shows that he has a solid stage presence as the very sweary Simon, all disgruntled about clearly being taken from his place of rest. He definitely believes not one iota of the Elf story, and yet in a brilliantly timed moment of regretful wishes, perhaps he does? A brilliantly controlled, on the edge of anarchy, performance from Burbidge though.

Having previously seen Morgan-Jones as Richard II, there was no doubt that there was plenty of talent here, so it comes as no surprise that she is equally strong here as Cherry, quite frightening in fact, apparently almost relishing the chance for a bit of torture as well, that's the character of Cherry, to be clear. Morgan-Jones is certainly creating quite an impression through the student shows so far, and I suspect there is much more to come.

Perhaps the best, however, of a strong cast is that of Radev's Elf, capturing both the look, pose and movement of a weird interpretation of an Elf, leaving you constantly unsure of whether you are meant to believe he is or isn't, very much as the whole of Neilson's script deliberately leaves you wondering at times. It is also quite a sight to see an orgasmic-like take on granting wishes. A really brilliantly judged comic performance.

This is certainly a great piece of (brief) entertainment and energetically directed by Simon Cole, on a deliberate mess of a set. He gets a great deal of enthusiasm out of his performers, making the whole piece, sadly, disappear in a blink of an eye. Definitely, one where you perhaps did want a little more at its end.

Performance viewed: Friday 15 December 2017 (matinee) at Maidwell Hall, University of Northampton (Avenue Campus), Northampton
Twitter feed for the University actors is @BA_Actors

Popular posts from this blog

Killed - July 17th 1916 by Looking Glass Theatre at St Peters Church, Northampton

I first saw Killed by the Looking Glass Theatre in its first incarnation by the company in July 2014. Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing it in its third version at their new home of St Peters Church. Also new were the cast and unlike that first version, I was familiar with each one of them as all five were the University Of Northampton BA Acting graduates of 2015. Both a masterstroke of casting and a huge extension of kindness of the theatre to give them all these roles.

It was also visionary of them as unlike that first version (with all due respect), these actors were at the very point of their lives to play these roles like no other. All maybe within a year perhaps of the actual characters featured and with the world ahead of them. However sadly these characters portrayed lived in a more terrifying world (although many troubles still remain) and some had no lives ahead of them.

Leading the cast as Billy Dean is Dale Endacott, a recruit who finds himself through a terrible co…

Review of Hacktivists by Ben Ockrent performed by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

The National Theatres Connections series of plays had been one of my highlights of my trips to R&D during 2014. Their short and snappy single act style kept them all interesting and never overstaying their welcome. So I was more than ready for my first encounter with one of this years Connections plays ahead of the main week of performances at R&D later in the year.

Hacktivists is written by Ben Ockrent, whose slightly wacky but socially relevant play Breeders I had seen at St James Theatre last year. Hacktivists is less surreal, but does have a fair selection of what some people would call odd. Myself of the other hand would very much be home with them. So we are presented with thirteen nerdy "friends" who meet to hack, very much in what is termed the white hat variety. This being for good, as we join them they appear to have done very little more than hacked and created some LED light device.

Crashing in to spoil the party however comes Beth (Emma-Ann Cranston) and…

Review of The Lovely Bones at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

It's a few years since I read Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones, a story which tells the tale of Susie Salmon, and her murder and her observations and attempts to control events from Heaven. However, even after this many years, I still remember it for being the source of many manly tears. Therefore it was with some trepidation that I set foot in the Royal part of the Royal & Derngate to see this touring co-production with Birmingham Repertory and Northern Stage. I needn't have worried, as although the story remains much the same, Bryony Lavery's adaptation heads towards the comedy and more relaxed aspects of the story if that is possible of a tale of a murdered 14-year-old.
Lavery and director Melly Still do attempt to unsettle their audience immediately though, launching into a sensory overload of light and sound as we get flashes of things to come in a stylish opening. We have already at this point, seated in the auditorium, been treated with a little of wha…