National Theatre review by Trevor Plumbly

The Christmas Special

Curtain up!

It’s the variety show and the gang’s all here: songsters, illusionists and comedians. We’ve got a political theme this year and it’s pretty high octane stuff for a small country. Donald and Boris may well have hoofed it in the world arena, but as the bard said ‘All the world’s a stage’, and remote as we are, we can still turn on a show. We don’t do clash of the Titans anymore, we use a casting system called MMP, a lot more suited to sub plots and insider trading. It was initially intended to make the performances more representative; it certainly looked good in the script, but in reality there were just more hopefuls coming on stage from different angles, which made it difficult to follow the story line and, after a bit of angst here and there, the cast unsuccessfully tried to jostle us to their version of happy ever after.   

The roar of the crowd  

Act 1 was rather like a talent quest, with everyone scrambling for the spotlight. The National team, having ‘killed off’ three major players in recent years decided that the future lay in stored rhetoric, lines like ‘a unifying influence’ and ‘a steady hand’ were regurgitated, despite evidence showing that whilst Boris and Donald may well be sub-evil plonkers, they still pull more punters than heroes and heroines.

A green chorus

The ACT party, whilst aptly named, was far from convincing and the solo performance lacked substance. He looked good, talked good, but still came over as unsuited for a more meaningful role. The Greens remained constant throughout, part chorus, part elderly troopers; they were essential to the plot but as ever, never really shone. Labour, sensibly decided the best way to fill seats with a captive audience is handing out free tickets and ice creams.  

Stop me if you’ve heard this one!

‘It’s time to get tough on crime!’ is a chorus that’s been sung more times than ‘Silent Night’. National’s leader Christopher’s version was a little more plaintive than the norm but as usual it struck a chord. We all care about crime; even people that get caught committing it worry about its effect, so it’s always a good opening number. I felt he was adequate at that point but when the next number involved housing his voice seemed to crack; at the risk of being picky I guess it’s tough to sing about a housing shortage when you own seven of them. ACT’s David gave a mixed performance, he was also worried about crime and housing, but overuse of one-liners watered down his impact. These two may well have a future, but I felt they both need a talented co-star to shine.

Breaking legs

Brutus stabs Caesar

I’d like to report that ‘it was all right on the night’, but it wasn’t. Shakespeare seemed to get muddled up with Monty Python.  Judith tried a Brutus on Simon but failed to complete the job, and ended up starring in her own death scene. Up to that point it was meaty stuff, but then it got silly, Simon rose from his sick bed crowned with laurels, while Christopher pleaded for everybody’s attention. In the midst of all that, David paced off centre practising a lean and hungry look muttering ‘Wherefore art thou?’ It wasn’t clear who he was searching for, the ghost of reality perhaps? His was a challenging role, one that demanded gravitas laced with a bit of flair. He didn’t do a silly walk or use a dead parrot, but had he done so, I felt it might have helped his credibility.        

Curtains

‘All good things come to an end’ and of course so do bad ones, and in that sense the finale was the highlight for me, with Grant doing ‘Singing in the Rain’ while Jacinda closed with ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’. Then the entire ensemble, including the recently deceased Judith, gathered on stage for ‘We’ll Meet Again’, which I found somewhat threatening. It was a moving show, in the gastric sense rather than the cultural, mercifully there were no curtain calls; anyone crying ‘Encore!’ would, I feel, have well deserved being trampled in the rush for the exit doors.   

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