Some show titles produce an earworm and this is a prime example. Every time I mentioned its title to a curious acquaintance, I'd end up with Here Comes Santa Claus on a loop in my addled brain.

 

I say addled, because two off key productions in a week is more than a little unfortunate – and this one is certainly not hitting all the high notes.

 

A glaring spelling mistake in the programme (Superintendant – I ask you!) should have set those alarm bells ringing, I suppose – but nothing could have prepared me for the high camp, low brow evening I was about to experience.

 

It all showed promise at the start. Barbara Love (Freya Copeland) is a hit with her young TV audience, who adore their 'Auntie Barbara' and watch her avidly each week. As she mentions on numerous occasions, she has 5 million fans. Unfortunately, the small group of people she invites each year for a Christmas Eve soiree are not among them. They may all appear to be part of Barbara's tight little group but each one has a reason to dislike her – and dislike is an extremely gentle way of putting it.

 

When Barbara receives a scary death threat, in the form of a tiny little coffin with a tiny little Barbara doll inside, wearing a carbon copy of one of her tiny little dresses, she calls in the police. There's also been a threat on her Ansaphone, a heavily disguised voice telling her she is about to meet Death. Note the use of that antiquated trade name – because this play is firmly set in the 1970s.

 

Sadly, some of the characterisation is outdated too, with Michael Cross hamming it up as a pantomime gay character reminiscent of John Inman and Larry Grayson – a portrayal that would surely jar with a modern-day audience. Another character guilty of laying it on with a trowel was Kim Tiddy's Connie, dressed in an outfit reminiscent of Abigail's Party and with strident tones that assaulted the eardrums.

 

Talking Scarlet's production was dated in style and heavy on overacting. Add that to a thin script and the result is a night to forget. Who wanted to kill Barbara? After a while I found that I didn't really care and the clunking denouement that resolved it all was telegraphed from a mile away. A disappointing theatrical experience.

 

Reviewer: Sandra Mangan

Reviewed: 17th November 2016

North West End Rating: ★★★

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