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14 December 2011
Copyright Christmas - review

Lyn Gardner: The Guardian

As Carol, the manager of the Copyright Christmas store, would say: "The devil is in the retail." It certainly is in this latest show from Duckie, whose previous festive frolics have included a brilliant critique of a corporate bun-fight in C'est Vauxhall and a send-up of seasonal shenanigans in Office Party. Now attention is turned to Christmas shopping, with the audience becoming customers in a huge warehouse where the off-the-shelf, flatpack Christmas essentials on offer include freedom from guilt, eternal youth, self-respect and transformation.

Like many shopping experiences, Copyright Christmas offers the illusion of a new, improved you. There's also the illusion of choice as we are set loose like rats in a maze of packing cases (brand names: Papp or Mordett) to wander in a haze of conspicuous tat consumption. In Santa's grotto, little Dickie is having his eyes opened to the real world, the conjuring trick of the futures market is explained with a lump of sugar, Birdie Allslop will sell you a job for 12 monthly instalments, and you can sign up to the ELF card (Ethically Limited Finance).

Like a lot of Duckie shows, it's probably best enjoyed after a drink and with a friend; and, as with real high-street shopping, there's too much queuing. But there is plenty of fun to be had, and with its sinister store security guards, who look like mini-me dictators (announcement: "for customer safety and security, all staff are armed"), the show gradually creates a sense of unease amid the tinsel, the false smiles and the back-flipping elves that is beautifully realised in the finale. Enjoy, but remember: terms and conditions will apply, and there's no such thing as a free gift.

Like some of Duckie's other recent shows – including the overnight sleepover performance Lullaby, which transformed a theatre into a giant bedroom – this show is often a triumph of concept over content. But just when the joke is wearing thin, the company gets serious in a final scene that combines revolting elves, bargain basement aesthetics and Broadway production values. It is a gloriously gleeful and strangely affecting climax that lays bare the hollowness of a commercialised Christmas and reminds you why Duckie are not just rogueish pranksters, but chroniclers of the sickness at the heart of 21st-century life.

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