By Matt Trueman
Pity those parents with inquisitive kids, for they shall be faced with a barrage of whys after the Royal Court’s first ever family offering. Why is Santa such a grumpy grumbleguts? Why does Gran have a regular tattooist? And why, oh why, has Mum married a dog called Bernard? To these questions, and many, many more, there really is no answer. Shoulders will grow tired from bemused shrugs. The response,‘I really don’t know, dear,’ will squeeze through increasingly clenched jaws.
If it occasionally baffles, Get Santa does so with laudable relish. Really, we should have expected nothing else from Anthony Neilson, a writer who has always been intent on smashing sensibilities. Here he delights in mischief-making. Sometimes, he sides with the kids, throwing in barmy plotlines and asides that defy adult logic. Elsewhere, he is gobsmackingly subversive, like an uncle needlessly delivering half-camouflaged home-truths to the child on his knee. Newsreaders lie, we’re told; all adults do. Santa’s good-children-only rule is nothing but ‘a system of control’, Justin Beiber isn’t all you’ve been led to believe, and parents can be every bit as selfish as their offspring.
Get Santa involves a plot to do just what the title says. Ten-year-old Holly—a smart, if shouty, stage debut from Imogen Doel—is seeking revenge for disappointments of Christmases past. All she’s ever asked for is the return of her father, and yet, each year, all she gets are standard issue material goods. Only the trap she lays, of crisps, superglue, and spark plugs, snares not Santa, but his bungling beanpole of a son, Bumblehole (Tom Godwin).
Her hostage situation, however, turns into another, after Bumblehole accidentally animates her teddy, who immediately hatches a plot to keep himself alive. Pretending to be Holly’s father, Teddy convinces Holly to magically restart Christmas day repeatedly in order to prolong the spell of life.
It’s here that Neilson and his storyboarding collaborator Nick Powell (also responsible for the nauseatingly sweet songs that recur) score highest. Increasingly dishevelled adults, cracker hats hanging off their heads, are forced to endure endless Christmas cheer. Bloated and exhausted, they give and receive the same presents daily. At one point, Mum seems to have woken with yesterday’s final truffle still chewing around in her mouth.
With Miriam Buether’s garish living room (once again, proving herself the boldest designer in the country) becoming increasingly strewn with Christmas detritus and the messy innards of party-poppers, Get Santa is more Nickelodeon than CBBC. It feels like Doctor Seuss on a sugar rush: all E-numbers and artificial colourings. Kids will go wild.
But I can’t shake the suspicion that Neilson spoils the broth with too many crooks. There are too many villains for a satisfying narrative. With a snide, Scrooge-like Santa, a conniving Teddy, and the oft-brattish Holly facing off, there comes a point where you can’t side with anyone. Each holds another hostage, much like Tarantino’s three-gun salute in Reservoir Dogs. Neilson comes close to scuppering himself with his own defiance of conventional cheer.
Nonetheless, Get Santa holds its own in a very Royal Court way. In that, parents ought to consider whether their children are ready for it. Neilson and Powell don’t hold back, but every now and then, at Christmas in particular, over-stuffing is excusable.
Written under a Creative Commons License, with edits: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0/