Content and trigger warning: This production contains or refers to, and therefore this review refers to, sexual harassment and abuse, rape, paedophilia, homophobic and ableist slurs, mature themes, and coarse language.
The Drama Merchant presents The 8 Reindeer Monologues, a dark Christmas drama with moments of humour by Jeff Goode. The play is presented in a small, immersive setting at Preece House, Nerang, on the Gold Coast and directed by Nathan Schulz.
There is a media circus at the North Pole – Santa Claus has been accused of rape and the eight famous reindeer who pull Santa’s sleigh, their celebrity status threatened, have come together to discuss the allegations and their own experiences with the jolly old man. As the monologues build on one another and each reindeer’s story unfolds, the audience is increasingly horrified and sickened by the tales of violence, abuse, sexual harassment, and paedophilia that emerge.
For something written almost a decade prior to #metoo and related cultural shifts and movements, the play feels surprisingly (or rather, disappointingly) relevant for modern times. The script addresses themes of victim blaming and accusations of lying in cases of sexual assault, the choice of denial by supporters of the accused, and the ways in which the flippancy or disinterest of other men, in particular, in these cases perpetuates cultures of harassment, fear, and abuse, or at the least allows them to continue. The play also addresses the untouchable corporate institution that Christmas has become, and the very specific imagery that is associated with it. Religion was briefly touched upon in Dancer’s monologue, but this was not subsequently developed in the script. Homophobic and ableist slurs which were used to attack character and credibility could have been removed from the script without impacting the narrative or intention of the monologues.
The performance space of Preece House was used effectively and the performance was designed for immersion with the audience seated among the reindeer in the style of a support group meeting, and the monologues delivered across the room as well as from the centre of the circle.
All of the actors had obviously put a lot of effort into refining and embodying their characters. Costuming subtly implied character for each individual, and all actors wore antlers and well-executed reindeer makeup that was slightly different for each character.
David Austin delivered the first monologue as Dasher, the stoic and practical leader of the team, followed by Lachlan Sutherland’s performance as flirtatious camp cliché Cupid. Matthew Coleman played Hollywood, more focused on his struggling film career than the allegations being made or the seemingly dangerous culture of his work environment, and Georgina McDonald was passionate and focused as Blitzen, determined that Vixen’s story be heard and believed, and pointing out that Vixen had nothing to gain and everything to lose from making false allegations. Jenna Baker brought emotional intensity to the role of troubled-teen-turned-superstar-reindeer Comet, who argued vehemently against Vixen’s allegations on the basis of Santa’s benevolence in rescuing her from the streets. Sophie Lawson played Dancer, whose vapid character revealed more truths about Santa’s misconduct and Dasher’s knowledge of it through her monologue, seemingly without meaning to. Jenna Brandt-Smith gave an emotional performance as Donner, Rudolph’s mother, slowly revealing the sordid details of her son’s life as well as the sacrifices and awful choices that led to his current catatonic condition, and Candice Jean commanded the audience’s attention as Vixen, Santa’s accuser, delivering the final monologue with power and vehemence before leaving the audience in heavy silence as she exited the stage.
With few happy endings and seemingly no justice, The 8 Reindeer Monologues is far from feel-good or festive, but the emotional commitment of the cast and close proximity of its performance space make this an engaging piece of immersive theatre.
For ticketing and further information, visit The Drama Merchant website.