Get Santa! Royal Court Theatre, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

This reviewer once wrote that "Anthony Neilson and fun-for-all-the-family Christmas cheer go together about as amicably as the Val Doonican Songbook and Irvine Welsh." Just consider Relocated, his last venture at the Royal Court, which chillingly raised the spectre of Josef Fritzl and his cellar of horrors. So Neilson is somewhat incongruous casting as author of this venue's first ever Yuletide show for children. In the event, he's turned up trumps with Get Santa!, a hilariously inventive and unconventional extravaganza which, with its time-warp antics, suggests that it's a mercy Christmas comes but once a year.

Its heroine is Holly, a lippy, determined ten-year-old, beautifully portrayed in all her stroppiness and vulnerability by Imogen Doel. The one thing on her Christmas wish list is to find her real father, a desire that's all the more understandable given that her stepdad is a dog. Each year Santa has failed to deliver, so this time she plots to trap him when he comes down the chimney. She winds up instead with his son and helper, Tom Godwin's farcically hapless elf, Bumblehole. When a bungled spell brings to life Holly's Teddy, the audience melts at the adorable spectacle (the excellent puppetry is by Chand Martinez). But talking Teddy is not entirely to be trusted and to keep him alive Holly is repeatedly forced to pluck magic hairs from Santa's beard to reverse time and create a perpetually recurring Christmas.

The Groundhog Day horror of the situation (giving and receiving pile-ups of identical gifts in an ever blearier atmosphere of desperate merriment) is a hoot in the author's vivid, stylish production which is itself designed like a huge, lurid pink present. Nick Powell's musical score includes mock-heroically cheery jingles that parody the clichés of Christmas (sung by a chorus in ludicrously festive knitwear) and witty, gently moralising numbers which address the underlying issues, such as the need to respect human oddity and not think oneself the centre of the universe. The show is full of eccentric delights, from David Sterne's grouchy Santa (who, on his reluctant way to Scotland, inquires "Is the body armour packed?") to Robert Stocks's endearingly canine step dad who dresses the Christmas tree with strips of meat because he can't eat chocolate. Warmly recommended.

To 15 January (020 7565 5000)