Thursday, 11 December 2008

REVIEW: 'Christmas Dinner', The Greenroom

Published: MANCHESTER CONFIDENTIAL, 11th December 2008
"Christmas Dinner at Greenroom"

The Christmas lights are twinkling and the bank balance is fearfully quivering as letters to Santa are carefully composed. You’ve slipped on the ice at least once in the past few days and if, like me, the tree is up already, the carpet has become a pine needle danger ground. Me thinks, this must mean, it be time for a pantomime!

Panto can be a difficult one, a bit like Marmite, people either love it or hate it. Slapstick, raucous running around and a good old sing-a-long in Christmas spirit is not everyone’s idea of a pleasant night out. But Greenroom’s very own Christmas Dinner might well change your mind.

This is the panto I have been looking for, still suitable for kids, but simultaneously wonderful entertainment for those who no longer believe in Father Christmas, or receive Christmas stockings. I am a panto (and Marmite) lover, but in recent years I have to admit that I have found myself lagging somewhat after shouting, “He’s behind you” for the fifth time in a row. This was not the case tonight.

Oliver Bray has succeeded in writing an unpretentious, witty and refreshing festive script. Baron Balbus, the wonderfully evil baddy who will kill you with his own tongue, vows to destroy the enchanted forest after being spurned by the spectacularly clothed Dame Lederstrabenaffe (the monkey hat being a particular favourite). As the forest is the home of Fairy Mary and brothers Nelson and Nigel, this is an event that cannot be allowed to happen. Not only will all the forest inhabitants be forced to live in housing estates (as the Dame rightfully exclaims: “Oh no!”) but as Nigel reminds us, we also must remember our love for the trees: “We love the environment,” he ardently exclaims. A Christmas Dinner aided by Santa Claus is, obviously, their only hope of swaying the Baron’s decision.

This story is wonderfully aware of the social construct behind its creation, and that exists past the 'fourth wall' of the stage. Not only are parents welcomed, but ‘mums and mums, dads and dads’ – no sexual discrimination here, thank you very much. The stock characters remain, as do the songs and catchphrases – yet all with a twist for the better.

Food is sarcastically organic, the Fairy likes her tipple a wee bit much and the Dame definitely has a beard. Santa, though still white-haired and red-attired, is magnificently lewd, and sleazily seduces Fairy Mary. The music is cheesy, badly sung and hilarious.

Asking you to 'leave pre-conceptions at the door’, Christmas Dinner is a self-conscious narrative frequently commenting on, and battling against, the traditional pantomime structure. References to the contract being formed with the audience are stated; the actors artificially come out of character to express frustration at their constrained roles.

Sound effects and projections are used to great effect. In typical Greenroom style, the snow falling outside an arched window floats upwards, as well as down. The sets are similarly impressive – salt snow floor, an ornate dinner table and a flickering fire all add to the magic of the performances. The actors are clearly enjoying themselves as they perform, improvising and interacting with the audience with skill. They render jokes with irony and smiles, and the audience love it. Adults hiss and boo, laugh loudly, grapple for sweets and clap to Christmas renditions of ‘Eye of the Tiger’. What more could you want? Absolutely nowt.

It might not have the big budgets of the larger Manchester pantos, nor be so expertly rehearsed, but that only makes it jollier. This ‘Christmas Dinner’ really is the cream in the pie. It is a ridiculous, endearing and most importantly, a fun, pantomime. A wonderful Christmas treat, expect to have your tummy tickled and winter woes lifted. You should go. Take family, friends, reindeer and a token elf. At only £9, it would be silly not to.

'Christmas Dinner' is on at the Greenroom until the 21st of December.

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