Erin Harrington reviews Cancel Santa, directed by Dan Bain and Greg Cooper, at Little Andromeda, Thursday 15 December 2022.
Little Andromeda has spent the last few years building up audience buy-in for an annual Christmas production by presenting quality seasons of shows that have originated up north (Toys, Christ! What a Night, The Opening Night Before Christmas). Cancel Santa, written by [name redacted for professional reasons but also because it’s good schtick] is the theatre’s first original, and it hits the required beats: bawdy humour, song and dance, a special local guest (tonight, ‘caroller’ Michal Bush), and light abuse of the audience, all framed by escalating holiday-themed chaos. It’s clear there’s demand; before opening night the season’s mostly sold, and some will be very sad to have missed out on a strange, funny, rude production that leans in to Christmas-as-carnage.
Cancel Santa places us at the North Pole, where Santa (Dan Bain, in schmoozy American tech billionaire asshole mode) is launching his new innovation, with the help of two definitely happy and not at all exploited elves (James Kupa and Connie O’Callaghan, in mysteriously slippery Eurotrash accents). Santa will launch (wish-)fulfilment centres into year-round production, and if we get in on the ground floor we’ll all be Scrooge McDucking our way through swimming pools of cash. A hitch: once Santa’s cleared out we realise that O’Callaghan’s had a gutsful and isn’t drinking the candy cane-flavoured kool-aid any more. An elf rebellion, or unionisation? An escape at least, if she can convince her more reticent co-worker to go rogue. Unfortunately, any transgression summons Rudolph the Red Nosed Enforcer (Roy Snow), a sadomasochist reindeer with a riding crop, a Hogan’s Heroes-style comedy German accent, some corporate secrets and a desire for all manner of hanky panky spanky wanky. A chase! Danger! Sexcapades! A battle! And still, with some rather clever gag payoffs, Christmas is saved!
This is a high energy, lo-fi show that’s put a few resources in good places – including Rudolph’s clever costume, some well appointed lights and sound, and some merch for the audience. I’m aware there’s been a lot of chopping and changing because of Covid (including a special guest tech operator for the evening, Andrew Todd), but you wouldn’t know it. The performances are consistently bold, well-pitched, and ridiculous. One of my friends notes aptly (and favourably) that it embraces a degree of zany creepiness that pushes through a wall of cringe and into a realm of absurdity in which we all become willing participants, cheering and singing and embodying the spirit of happy little elves. And the audience is having a great time, including a guy next to me who is so deeply invested in the action that he’s wiggling around in his seat as we boo and cheer.
Is this Shakespeare? No. Is it tasteful? Uh, not really. Is it what you want from a show that needs to harness and ride the wide-eyed sleep-deprived mania of yet another Quite Bad Year, like St Paul Atreides dominating a holiday-themed sandworm? Yes. This year has been weird, the holiday season is weird, and this show is wonderfully weird in a way we can all get behind.
Cancel Santa runs until Saturday 24 December, by which point it’s Christmas and Santa will be coming your way.