Review: Santa Claus (Basement Theatre)
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
Usually when a new production appears around this time of year, it is service to a school trip, a family outing, or a corporate Christmas celebration. We've already seen one example in the Court Jesters' "A Christmas Carole", and naturally upon hearing of a show called "Santa Clause" I assumed that this was Auckland's contribution to this festive demand. It's fair to say that Slightly Isolated Dog's devised work is a very different beast to what I imagined it would be. Granted, it is still aimed at an audience of friends and colleagues celebrating this time of year, but this is not a cosy, heart-warming reminder of the important things in life, but a sassy mess of naughtiness.
I say mess because there is not much of a narrative in "Santa Claus". Technically, it chronicles Santa's decent from loving and generous giver of toys and trinkets (including such gifts as "a two bedroom apartment in Auckland" and "a sense of purpose"), into outraged and violent massacrist, expanded over several Christmases as the residents of Auckland prove that they are unable to change their ways and get off the Naughty List. In reality though, it is an easy set up for devising creative scenarios and segments around the Christmas theme, with a great deal of audience participation. And a star guest. (On the night I attended this was "author, comedian, and all around good bitch Jaquie Brown".)
The show is performed in a catwalk-like space between a row of round tables where some of the audience, primarily those pulled up to be part of the show, sit (meeker audience members, or just those who missed out on a table, sit in the rows behind). Consequently, it feels less like a rounded and isolated performance than an improvised festive romp. It can feel random and chaotic, but that is entirely the point. It is not meant to be taken too seriously, and it is not meant to take an awful lot of thought. It is a show most likely vastly aided by a drink or two, but in the best possible way. Though there are many elements that are indisputably hilarious (a re imagining of the classic Christmas argument in which Rudolph throws a strop, and a riot in which anarchists discuss the logistics of stealing a piano), one's actual enjoyment of the show rests on whether or not you find the performers entertaining. They go out of their way to embody a camp theatrical stereotype - loud, flirtatious, bold, all in shocking red lipstick and platform heels. Personally, the creativity of the scenarios and the vibrancy of the performances had me in stitches.
When it comes to the audience participation, Slightly Isolated Dog are masters. Despite asking several audience members to do some quite outrageous and perhaps unexpected things things - do a secret handshake on the spot, dance like a stripper, kiss one of the performers - you never feel like you are laughing at the volunteer (or victim), or that they are being made to feel uncomfortable. Of course not everyone will get into the spirit of it, this kind of theatre is not for everyone, but if there were ever a time to let yourself go and be a little naughty, it would be as a participant in this show. Four stars.