Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Christmas and anti-Christmas theatre on the fringe

Ontroerend Goed's Sirens. Photo: Ronny Wertelaers
by -

Christmas season is well and truly upon us and I couldn’t be happier. The idea of pantos as far as the eye can see makes me as happy as those kids that surround you when you go to watch them are. And that’s squealing happy – take my word for it.

Alright maybe that’s a bit of a lie. I am a massive fan of Christmas but there’s only so many times one can hear “He’s behind you!” before becoming a bit blase. So while I wrote a glowing account of panto last year, I’m grateful there are a glut of fringe shows putting the ghosts and ghouls directly in front of us this year.

Over at the Soho Theatre, Ontroerend Goed are screaming their heads off in Sirens – and making some brilliant feminist points to boot – while Barney Norris’ knotty family drama Visitors at the Bush reminds us that not all Christmas shows have to be family friendly. Meanwhile, the Almeida has The Merchant of Venice, which is a tough Shakespeare at the best of times, let alone at Hanukkah.

And even if you are doing a Christmas show, it doesn’t have to be schmaltzy. The Unicorn’s Fourth Wise Man and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King prove that. As does Nigel and Louise’s Basement Grotto at Shoreditch Town Hall which sees Shunt artists Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari bring their carnivalesque touch to Father Christmas.

So while I’m all for a satsuma at the end of my stocking, this year I’m going to make it a tart one.

Getting inside Daniel Kitson’s head

One man who knows how to subvert consumer Christmas is Daniel Kitson and by some miracle – and a broken mouse from clicking the browser refresh button about a thousand times – I’m going to see A Show for Christmas on December 5.

Kitson has been workshopping this show in front of audiences in a pub in Forest Hill for a few months. He’ll sit down with a cup of tea and some biscuits and read out sections to us to gage our reactions. Sometimes he’ll tell a joke or two because “after all £3 is £3” and we’ve got to get something out of it.

We do of course. It’s fascinating watching and being part of the process of writing. Seeing how Kitson edits himself and comes up with ideas; finding out if what we’ve smiled or laughed at has made the cut; wondering if his hesitancy is real or if it’s an act. Is he even being himself on stage? Or a version of himself?

I’m almost nervous to see A Show for Christmas because I feel I have a very small ownership of it and I don’t think I’m alone. Perhaps because of his method of engaging audiences to inform his performance (a trick he no doubt learned from his stand-up days), the show sold out in hours.

Lastly, some tigers reading The Stage

Before you go thinking I’m a complete scrooge I thought I’d share this. Slightly Fat Features’ Variety Soup is a family friendly sketch show that promises to be punky and full of tigers. Like all successful tigers, they read The Stage.

SFF tigers sequence variety soup from Morreaux on Vimeo.

If you only see five things on the fringe this week…

101 Dalmations. Photo: Farrows Creative
101 Dalmations. Photo: Farrows Creative

DaDaFest  – The Blue Coat, Liverpool
DaDaFest takes over Liverpool’s artistic hub The Blue Coat with an array of shows that celebrate talent and creative brilliance in deaf and disability arts.

101 Dalmatians – Factory Theatre, Bristol
Tobacco Factory Theatres and Travelling Light come together on a lively ensemble version of Dodie Smith’s much-loved book that’s a million miles away from Disney.

Icarus, The Bike Shed, Exeter
The Bike Shed is a superb venue and their current show Icarus in Love is exactly the sort of adventurous programming that marks them out.

Assasins. Photo: Nobby Clark
Assasins. Photo: Nobby Clark

A Christmas Carol, Puppet Theatre Barge, London
If you want a real adventure this Christmas you can’t go wrong with the Puppet Barge’s A

Christmas Carol: marionettes, a boat and Tiny Tim – what’s not to love?

Another gloriously leftfield Christmas choice would be Assassins at The Menier Chocolate Factory. Mark Shenton gave it five stars – good enough for me.

Read more fringe columns from Honour Bayes

The Stage Awards 2015

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.