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Theatre Review: The Eight: Reindeer Monologues

December 14, 2009

Reindeer MonologuesThe Eight: Reindeer Monologues, by Jeff Goode, 5/12/09, UoC Ballroom (DramaSoc)

I was talked into going to this by my friend who was the tech man for the show, and all I really knew about Jeff Goode’s 1994 play was that it would be an adult-themed spin on the standard reindeer folklore. I didn’t really expect it to be quite like this though. For a start a piece of Christmas cake and some punch were provided at the door.

The title does not lie: the play was simply eight different actors playing the flying reindeer on Santa’s famous sleigh team, each of whom sat down in turn and delivered a monologue on their experiences as part of the team. They start with Dasher, the leader (apart from that time with the red-nosed one), whose speech was mainly on the theme of solidarity, courage, and loyalty, with references to some unfortunate accidents that the sleigh team experienced. As the different reindeer relate their stories it becomes increasingly clear that there is some seriously depraved stuff going on at the North Pole.

Although the play is extremely funny (especially to the guy in the front row…there’s always one) and contains lots of lighthearted risque humour, a dark, serious undercurrent gradually develops and eventually dominates the play. The first five reindeer are stereotypes: there’s a poncy gay, a silly blonde, a born-again Christian, a raging feminist. These provide lots of fodder for jokes as the exaggerated characters are transplanted into the usual serene Santa mythology. The last three reindeer are the victims in the story, and consequently they provide little of the silly humour and a lot of the heavy weight of the play.

The major themes of the play are about the dangers of celebrity, respect, authority, and abuse of power. The magical sleigh team is more like a cutthroat model agency, where obedience, subservience, and secrecy are highly valued and the desire for the fame of being on the team leads to unethical blackmailing and abuse from the jolly man in charge. The final three reindeer expose all the crude jokes and chummy stuff as a cover for the real depravity. For some the humour acts as a coping strategy, for some the immorality is just the price for being at the top of the celebrity heap. To me, the victims proved the claims of the others that Santa’s actions were just for the greater good to be hollow and in fact a desperately awful example of abuse of power.

As the programme intro explains, this play is an excellent antidote to the media’s often insane coverage of similar stories of abuse. Because the preface to the raw, extremely harsh truths of the victim’s experience is an entertaining romp through all the cliches (“just a bit of fun”, “oh but he’s a nice guy really”, “you’ve got to expect a bit of that”…) there is a punishing blow of realization that you’ve just been laughing and enjoying the sort of media circus that only those low-brow people who love Paul Henry and Michael Laws are supposed to take seriously. It’s a frightening demonstration of the power of the billowing clouds of a media storm to completely smother the simple, straight truth of the emotional devastation of the victims.

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