Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

In the lane, snow is glistening.

A beautiful sight, but there’s rape here tonight in Santa’s pervy wonderland …

At North Pole Central, a traumatized Rudolph beats his hooves softly against the walls of his padded cell, Cupid admits his masochistic taste for the whip and describes Santa’s grotesque penile tattoo, feminist Blitzen stages a walkout, kosher Dancer wants time off for Hannukah, ex-hell’s angel Comet finds salvation in St Nick and foxy Vixen explains how she has been taken from behind in the way only Santa knows how …

It’s a brilliant concept, but lamely developed in Jeff Goode‘s script which accuses Santa as a sadomasochistic monster with penchants for everything from bestial rape to child abuse, and his wife as an alcoholic nymphomaniac. One by one the eight reindeer fill in the details of the horrific violation which has led to strike action jeopardizing the Christmas sleigh run.

There are two ways to play this: out and out ‘Jerry Springer’ confessional where the reindeer are snow-white trash dishing the dirt on a monster and the characters exaggerated for comic effect, or here as in Matthew Lloyd Davies‘ flatly directed production where the monologues sound more like courtroom evidence.

Part of the problem is the material which doesn’t seem to have been updated: in 1995 it may have been smart and edgy to use the word ‘vagina’ repeatedly onstage, or to make nudgy jokes about rape and paedophilia, but with a slew of press reportage of everything from Michael Jackson to the Catholic Church, sexual abuse hasn’t exactly retained its rib-tickling appeal.

The structure of the reindeer team is interesting, as are the glimpses of how the Santa industry is run, but apart from revealing that the elves were formerly towel boys in an Irish brothel, there’s very little satire of the Christmas business.

The performances are enthusiastic and earnest: I liked James McGregor’s earthily Northern born-again Comet, and Heather Johnson’s plumply Bristolian Dancer coming dangerously close to the work of Matt Lucas whom she somewhat resembles. Domenico Listorti’s lisping queerdeer Cupid is the easy scene-stealer, but only because the others don’t play up nearly enough and their characters are less obviously drawn.

It’s an evening of missed opportunities: the crime scene is a bare room with three sets of antlers on the walls, the colourless lighting is appalling, there’s almost no music, and the costumes are cheap and dowdy. The audience knows the show’s intentionally funny, but the laughs are few and you can feel the actors straining for them as the monologues grow increasingly repetitive, building too slowly towards Vixen’s anticipated but obvious final testimony.

Sometimes, reindeer don’t know how to fly …

Runs until 27th Nov

The Public ReviewsOriginally published on The Public Reviews.