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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

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