Arts Review: War On Christmas

Gary McNair, Arches, 11th – 28th December

Going by the posters, you’d be forgiven for expecting Gary McNair’s War On Christmas to end up somewhere between a bad `Trey Parker / Matt Stone project and something involving Tenacious D. Fortunately, the show is actually a very clever little comedy; a punk-rock alternative to the commercial glitz and glamour that dominates the mainstream panto season.

As seems to be mandatory for festive satires, the play is a loose parody of A Christmas Carol; though it’s a looser parody than most. After being assigned work in one of the least privileged Asdas in Glasgow, an ambitious young supermarket Santa (Brian James) is forced to confront the reality of the modern festive period by his elf assistant (McNair), who employs disguises, songs, the audience, and violent threats to convince Santa that, when you think about it, Christmas is actually “pretty fucked up”.

With its lo-fi aesthetic, twisted sense of humour and unabashedly anti-capitalist slant, there’s something very Glasgow about the whole thing. Where else in the world can you sit deep under a train station and be led by two men in festive onesies to sing a parody of ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ with the title line swapped out for “this year Christmas can git tae fuck”?

But it’s more than just edgy anti-Christmas contrarianism. Though War On Christmas ultimately makes its argument pretty clear, some of its strongest moments are in showing the conflict between the pro-Christmas Santa and his anti-Christmas elf without portraying the latter as a grumpy grinch or the former as delusionally idealistic. Both sides are treated with a surprising degree of dignity for a show with this many dick jokes, and both characters are given genuine reasons for their positions. All in all, its this sincerity that elevates the premise above the juvenile edginess it could easily have slipped into to become something with a surprising amount of emotional weight. Who would have known that an anti-Christmas propaganda piece could be so thoughtful?

[Neil Weaving]

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