By Serafina Lee, Deputy Digital Arts Editor
Riddlestick Theatre’s Christmas show is exuberantly festive. The troupe are expert storytellers, delivering their strange spins on traditional fairy tales and tropes. They are all united by one aim: keep Christmas alive in Puritan England.
Like any good Christmas show, audience participation was a must. We immediately felt part of the production as we were told that we were watching an underground Christmas play under the tight reign of the Puritans. Later on, we were subject to games such as Pin the Tail on the Donkey and dice rolling, the winner rewarded with various Christmas-related food and drinks.
In 1647, Parliament forbade the seasonal feast of Christmas, coinciding with the closure of theatre companies. The troupe (most notably Barry, Rose Potato, Jack Pudding and Mary) emphasised the outrage of banning mince pies and feasting, and especially shops being forced to open on Christmas day. This was a war on Christmas; the battlefield was the outlawed stage.
The troupe played well on the conventions of Medieval morality plays such as Everyman which deliver a didactic message through stock characters. The live music and sudden bursts into song really accentuated the atmosphere and the characters had a complementary dynamic, embodying these stock characters well, such as Rose Potato typifying the jester figure. The heightened stereotypical characterisations were effective and allowed an extra level of parodic humour to resonate throughout the tone of the play.
The originality of the storytelling lay in the way they infused it with trademark absurdity. In a Sleeping Beauty-esque tale, the princess' true love didn't turn out to be the slovenly man she is initially led to by the prophecy, but rather her doctor once she is admitted to a psychiatric hospital. After following the prophecies’ directions and reaching the clearing where her Prince Charming in shining armour is supposed to be waiting, instead she is met with a horse… followed by a drunkard. The play on expectations and comedic timings were excellent; the tales were lightheartedly hilarious and the actors swapped roles incredibly well.
The absurdity was also heightened by fun interjections of modern songs and references, which the audience seemed to love. The live music also set a great backdrop to the narrative and allowed for quick mood changes. The actors really took ownership of the stage, infusing a sustained level of high energy throughout the production. Rose potato especially switched through multiple farcical characters, altering her voice especially well.
The physical comedy was genuinely funny and luckily did not veer too strongly into pantomime territory. The only criticism I would have of these overt and exaggerated characterisations was the way that only Mary was depicted as excessively sexualised; it would have been preferable to have a male counterpart who was equally as sex-driven. However, the light tone of the play means that all characters were absurd, so her exaggeration was congruent with the overall narrative.
The physical comedy was genuinely funny and luckily did not veer too strongly into pantomime territory
The play ended with marriage, as most conventional comedy does. The Puritan who is converted to a Christmas enthusiast was a nice final touch, allowing the revelry to continue. Undercover Christmas Club is an exuberant festive production, delivering an evening of seasonal hilarity.
Featured Image: The Wardrobe Theatre / Riddlestick Theatre
What are your thought on pantomimes?