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Theatre Review Yule fare past its sell-by date

The Night Before Christmas
Southwark Playhouse

HEARD the one about the loser, the gay and the prostitute in a storeroom? Add an imprisoned elf and there you have Anthony Neilson’s 1995 play, an extended joke running to just over an hour.

Neilson's trio comprises Loser Gary, played with a winning child-like naivety by Douggie McMeekin, who's a divorced trader in dodgy goods and unlikely to be able to see his son over the holiday period. His mate Simon (Michael Salami), a cynically angry gay, is set on vociferously denouncing the plasticity of Christmas, while a foul-mouthed prostitute (Unique Spencer) is out to get a Power Rangers toy for her son whatever the cost.

Don Starkey’s elf, working for an international gift agency out of Hartlepool, is caught breaking into Gary’s lockup and is forced to give away the secrets of Christmas and grant three wishes in order to be released. That in a nutshell is Neilson’s exploration of Christmas through three sets of very jaded eyes.

While director Alex Sutton works hard with his energetic cast, the humour arising from the clash of traditionally sentimental seasonal values with the brash modern world of plastic goods, drugs and sex is predictable after the opening salvo.

Despite updating with a few contemporary references, Neilson's in-yer-face style of theatre falls somewhat flat and, although there are laughs aplenty, they're predictable and soon forgotten. The audience enjoyed it and it's an easy watch, but, as a piece of self-proclaimed “experimental theatre,” Neilson’s playlet lacks contemporary bite.

Runs until December 29, box-office: southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/.

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