How to Catch a Krampus promises to be a “black-hearted antidote to all things cheery this festive season” – enough, apparently, to ‘ruin your Christmas.’
This is, obviously, tongue-in-cheek, the same way A Series of Unfortunate Events warns its viewers and readers away from it. But you can’t help but feel, all the way through this raucous performance, that, actually, the makers of the show kind of love Christmas.
This show, which starts with a literal bang, is full of black comedy, yes, with some outstanding gags on torture, sex, murder and more, but the show’s humour is so infectious that you’ll come away humming a Christmas song all the way.
And there are Christmas songs featured – mostly sung in a grim choir-style that juxtaposes hilariously with the often upbeat Christmas tunes. The choir’s rendition of George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’, in particular, is great. This choir pops up every now and again as part of the show’s anthology style of presenting separate stories, although there is a main plot running through the show that they revisit sporadically.
This main storyline, however, although presenting some genuinely scary and tension-filled moments (props to lighting designer Clancy Flynn and sound designer Alicia Jane Turner), is not the main reason for the show’s success. It’s a decent story about a woman’s kidnapped child with the inevitable Krampus being involved somehow (with a pretty decent twist mixed in) and the show is bookended by scenes beginning and concluding this story. The finale is a creepy, funny, bloody mess featuring party hats, German accents, knives, pigs and a farmer. It’s great.
However, it’s the individual stories that make this show such rambunctious fun. An opera singer (Mahatma Khandi) with a bird and an inept translator (played by the show’s funniest star, Lavinia Co-op), a court case where the accused ends up singing Rhianna’s ‘S&M’ (again, Co-op, drawing the biggest laughs of the night and the loudest round of applause) and a troupe of Morris dancers are the highlights in an eclectic mix of rowdy, bawdy, LGBTQ+ cheering sketches.
And they are sketches rather than anthology stories, not that that’s a bad thing when the material on display is so enjoyable. Indeed, there is a touch of Monty Python on display here – particularly with the Morris dancers echoing “Morris” every thirty seconds in the same way that the Knights Who Say Ni echo Ni consistently.
The musical numbers, meanwhile, are a varied mix of Christmas songs, pop-songs, LGBTQ+ anthems (Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ is, appropriately, the show’s opening number) and theatre tunes. Queen, Sondheim, George Michael and Bob the Builder all feature. The last song is the pick of the bunch, however – a mayhem-filled treat. Four of the ensemble, each with their own unique style of comedy, attempt to execute their version of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’, using items and props that feature in the previous sketches throughout the show. It’s chaos. They constantly run around the curtain, picking up new props with every verse, becoming increasingly out of breath each time and struggling to keep up with the song and its lyrics. It’s great – shepherded by the musical’s writer, director and star, Ginger Johnson.
Johnson, who takes us the through every story as the show’s main character, narrator and guide, proves able to execute immediate comedy with great visual and spoken gags – but can also build comedy slowly to an almighty crescendo. Johnson runs the show a tad like Mrs Brown does in the BBC series of the same name – breaking the fourth wall, interacting with the audience, riffing on mistakes made within the show and conducting viewers with her tongue firmly in her cheek. I’m not sure Johnson would take that as a compliment, but it’s meant as one. Johnson, like Mrs Brown, knows her audience well, know how to make them laugh and knows her own comedy inside out, as well as how best to execute it.
Not all of it lands, however. There is a duff tinder joke at one point and it does have a feel of ticking off all of the classic LGBTQ+ jokes (blowjob gag? Check. Kink gag? Check. Drag joke? Check.). The song and dance number called “The Masochism Tango” performed by David Cumming, too, while brilliant and a particular highlight is the tone the show aims for but cannot manage to sustain for the entirety of its two hour run time. Dark, sexy, funny, playful and outrageous, some of the other parts of the show fall a bit flat in comparison.
It does also seem a bit like pantomime for adults, but that’s part of the scandalous fun. And that leads me back to the start of this review. This show isn’t the black-hearted cynical play it’s described as – it’s actually just two hours of infectious hilarity and even the most cold-hearted person will find themselves laughing out loud on numeral occasions. It’s a joyous, boisterous event (and an event it truly is) that guarantees to leave you in twice the spirits you arrived in.
How to Catch a Krampus is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until 23 December. For more information and tickets, click here.