Ah, promenade theatre, how you test the most adventurous of our theatre makers and show that it’s not always a style worth investing in. Promenade theatre lives or dies within the first 15 minutes, and for Duckie’s Copyright Christmas, what promises to be a self-reflective evening of extravaganza falls early on as we are herded like cattle from repeated performance acts to repeated metaphors and motifs. Whilst the Barbican Theatre’s stage might have been transformed into a maze of supermarket aisles and knock off Christmas treats, Duckie’s overall performance is more trying than worst of family Christmases.
Copyright Christmas is the world of corrupt capitalism where store manager Carol opens her arms to the shoppers’ every desire and need. Want family acceptance or self respect? They sell that. Perhaps you’re after a transformation or eternal youth? Whatever you could want, Copyright Christmas has a gift for you. Part promenade, part group and one on one experiences, it’s an evening of rip-off Christmas joy with performance artists strutting their stuff in exaggerated character forms. Duckie’s version of a Christmas is bittersweet, creating a mocking affair of our societal buying into corporations and capitalism, whilst simultaneously showing that a Christmas production isn’t always about pantomimes and cheap snow. It’s just a shame that this alternative Christmas production is more about endurance for an audience than being handled with care and offered a sweet night’s rest, as in Duckie’s previous Barbican offering, Lullaby.
Separated into small groups, we move around the ‘Copyright Christmas Supermarket’, meeting various characters/employees and throwing ourselves into given situations. Copyright Christmas is at times more a military operation than a promenade performance as the audience continually revolve around the maze of encounters, with each moment repeated six or so times in succession. Whilst grand in operation direction and concept, Copyright Christmas struggles to maintain a sense of adventure and entertainment for its audience. The herded movement as the groups pass from performance to performance means that the various artists struggle to keep the momentum, and the audience in return endure continual stopping and shuffling. With this promenade style of work, a strong narrative needs to be fed through, but Mark Whitelaw’s direction seems more intent on driving a naff message of how corporate Christmas has become, rather than teasing out some of Duckie’s ensemble characters and possible narratives.
Whilst Copyright Christmas suffers in its lack of attention to detail, there are some wonderful characters within the ensemble for laugh out moments, and it has to be said the production itself is impressive for handling the vast capacity of audience at once. It’s certainly not suited to a theatregoer wanting to be fully immersed and challenged by theatre, but it might prove a laugh for an alternative Christmas party night out for office employees.
Christmas Copyright comes across as an underdeveloped idea, where even in the final climatic moments at the end of the show, the grand revealing that brings the audience back together as a whole, there is untapped potential for Whitelaw’s production to soar above and beyond. There is a slight expectation that Duckie’s performances will take the audience on a new adventerous journey, which in many ways will draw a particular audience to the Barbican. But like any grand promenade performance, it’s too easy for all the hard work to be lost when a piece lacks commitment to the storytelling of theatre and making the audience seem less like sheep herded from moment to moment. What Copyright Christmas really needed was a through line, a narrative to engage within those moments of queuing and shuffling. It’s a shame because the production looks impressive, but doesn’t manage to transport its audience through a progressing story or idea. Much like that cheap tacky Christmas gift from your aunt that you’ll end up throwing in the bin at the end of Christmas, Copyright Christmas is a piece of disposable theatre.
Copyright Christmas is playing at The Barbican Theatre until 31 December. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican Theatre’s website. Duckie also has a Christmas Market that is worth visiting before and after the performance in the Barbican foyers.