Perusing the free gifts in Duckie’s Christmas catalogue is sure to leave you with a brazen sense of mistrust. Happiness, self-respect, popularity… it’s all too good to be true, which, of course, is exactly the point.
The commercialisation of Christmas is nothing new, but in a world where ‘happiness’ is a new flat screen TV and trainers obtained by whatever means, there is good reason for people to shake the fake snow out of their eyes and pay attention. Copyright Christmas, this year’s alternative Christmas production by Duckie, is the play George Osborne and the retail industry would prefer you didn’t see.
Staged amid the narrow passageways of the Barbican’s lower levels, furnished to resemble a labyrinthine superstore of deviance, this promenade performance went head over heels to take you, the customer, for all you’re worth. “You’re trash!” exclaimed one of the ruder store dwellers when our group was deliberately split into the ‘cheap, economy class nobodies’ and the few ‘high-rolling, money-spinners’. I ended up in the latter with two fellow audience members to enjoy a bubbling champagne equivalent and five-minutes of pampering from a female elf who spoke French, played the violin and presented us with an oversized receipt for a whopping great bill.
Splitting up the audience was the play’s most open swipe at the social injustice of our consumerist culture, though there isn’t a moment when it lost sight of its dark satire. The cast of over a dozen actors gleefully welcomed the audience into the shopping extravaganza before sending us off unnerved and on edge. It’s hard to know what’s more disturbing: a Christmas Turkey demanding young men sit on its knee while it claims that 60 per cent of women say recycling is the number one thing they look for in a partner, or an overeager bathroom attendant spraying ‘essence of Boris Johnson’ all over you.
Each room in the surreal superstore was another sketch, another jab at the absurdity that Christmas has become in the capitalist world. Sign a contract to the (sugary) solution to your financial stability, buy yourself a job – or even a husband, and if you’re not completely satisfied, have a colossal paper fight with the actors when the play reaches its climax. The jubilant Elfy, who used her impressive physical theatrics to promote a store card with 33.9 per cent APR, teased espionage and danger that, much to my disappointment, never materialised. It’s about atmosphere and meaning more than narrative, but I was bracing myself for it to get more emotionally heated, for it to bring more inconvenient truths to light.
Copyright Christmas grabs you by the hand and hit you over the head with commercialisation of Christmas – repeatedly. It’s a playful and provocative satire that pulls you into the drama and leaves you to pondering just how far the sentiment of Christmas giving has been stretched.