Theatre Review: War on Christmas (The Arches)

War on Christmas
War on Christmas

Billed as an alternative Christmas show, Gary McNair’s ‘War on Christmas’ is a chaotic piece of panto polemic which pulls no punches.

The two-hander sees a dedicated superstore Santa and dastardly anti-Christmas terrorist (in the guise of a ineffective elf) battle for the very soul of the festive season.

The action takes place in the grottiest of grottos in deepest, darkest Possilpark. It’s a far cry from the West End Waitrose gig Brian James’ Santa character thinks his self-appointed ‘King of Christmas’ status should afford him.

Cue three visits by a trio of larger-than-life characters (all of whom look suspiciously like Gary McNair’s elf) - a Glaswegian homeless Jesus, a shell-suited youngster and a fat cat businessman - all determined to lay bare the crass commercialism and advertising myths of Christmas.

But there’s never a risk of all this Dickensian capitalist baiting getting too bleak, with a healthy dose of scatological humour and a series of supremely filthy songs adding mirth to the well-targeted political invective.

The mix of the serious and the silly doesn’t always work though, with some massively jarring tonal shifts proving problematic.

A fierce and intelligent rap about the demonisation of the working classes and a genuinely beautiful piece of shadow theatre rub up a little too close to the baser elements of the performance. The lack of a director credit on the programme is telling.

It could have also done with a judicious edit, with a series of scenes reliant on (awkward) audience participation in particular adding little to proceedings.

None of this, however, should detract from what is a fantastically enjoyable and thought-provoking 90 minutes of tinsel-flecked subversion.

It’s worth the £10 admission for the closing singalong alone, which features scabrous lyrics you’ll be singing to yourself until the New Year.