Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A darker, sinister bouffon Santa - TGI Christmas (Black Box – 20 and 21 December)

After being treated to a great playlist of Santa tunes, the lights dimmed and the audience looked out at the simple tree, chair and fireplace on the Black Box stage for Amadan’s annual TGI Christmas show. Lulled into a family Christmas spirit with a superb reading that built up the anticipation, we wondered from where would the performer enter? When would we get our first glance at Jude Quinn’s red-suited creation? The answer was both obvious and totally unexpected when it came.

In silence, punctuated by increasingly loud waves of giggles, we grew to appreciate some of the struggles facing Santa as he moves around delivering presents.

While “he was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf” and definitely had “a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly”, this was also an adult and sophisticated Santa. A darker, sinister one who can brutally judge the quality of hospitality left in a living room. A person who can perhaps distinguish bad from good better than he can discern naughty from nice. The UK government might describe him as creating a ‘hostile environment’.

Mischievous, curious, absurd, vain, rude, at times perverse, and only ever a tiny bit remorseful for the misery he creates in the supposed season of cheer.

For the most part it’s a one man show – with some help from Lunchbox Theatre – but when you’ve got a whole captive audience to play with, you’ve more than enough to create a tableau or two across the front of the stage. Costumes can be provided!

With a loooong stare or a gesture, Quinn – who trained at the Lecoq theatre school in Paris and is a master at the bouffon style of physical performance – confidently wields the power to freeze an audience member to their seat and leave their mates cowering. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we soon all know a treat is in store when the light comes on over the audience.

The musical cues and track choices add to the layers of physical and emotional comedy being created on stage. Quinn has a remarkable ability to minutely control his movements and to change his shape inside a costume, at one point making it look like two different people are controlling the two sides of his body.

The final lipsynced medley boosts Quinn into the premiere league of silent Stars in Their Eyes performers, as he morphs through the shape, gender and movements of so many well known artists in a routine that is highly synchronised with the shifting music tracks. (His Mariah Carey is amazing!)

Ultimately this is a Santa who is generous with his gifts for all the audience.

Thank F#ck It’s Christmas is probably the best lit shows I’ve seen in the Black Box, truly converting the Cathedral Quarter venue into a blacked off theatre space. This fourth annual version of the production is a fabulous showcase for Jude Quinn and Gemma Mae Halligan’s talents and their Amadan company.

The swear word in the title is the warning that the show has a sharp edge. But a style of comedy that attracted a wide age range to the performance I attended. When Band Aid sang “It's Christmas time; there's no need to be afraid” they certainly didn’t have Jude Quinn’s Santa in mind!

Tickets are still available for the Wednesday 21 December performance. Laughter guaranteed at the Black Box where doors open at 8pm.

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