December 21, 2019, by Peter Kirwan
Christmas at the (Snow)Globe @ Shakespeare’s Globe
Is it a Christmas show or a Shakespeare show? At the heart of Sandi Toksvig and Jennifer Toksvig’s joyful festive residency at the Globe lay an irreverent contestation over the space, whether reserved for ‘serious acting’ or opened up for community celebration. As a site-specific and original holiday entertainment, it spoke to the unique power of the Globe as a space for magic.
‘Please listen carefully – this is the plot, and it is very thin’ announced Sandi. A Christmas tree stood bare on the stage and needed to be lit with the help of the fairy Snowdrop (Sophia Trott) and an audience chanting ‘Twangle, twangle, twangle’, borrowed from Caliban’s ‘thousand twangling instruments’. Sandi coopted a stage manager, Jack (Louise Voce) to do what he could to help her create an authentically Danish Christmas, with Jack drawing on the magic of Michelle Terry’s Mary Poppins-like cart. And a gigantic toy soldier, Wenceslas Stanislavski (Chris Jarman) popped up to help, as long as Sandi introduced a bit of Shakespeare.
And so, the plot. Sandi was sad and unable to fully enjoy Christmas, because she was separated at birth from her twin, and has no hope of meeting him again. Fortunately, Saadi (Tony Jayawardena) coincidentally turned up, having traveled from afar (how very Shakespearean) with the actor Robyn Goodfellow (Stella Duffy) who hates Christmas. Realising that the happy revellers onstage were at risk of turning a serious Shakespearean theatre into a festive show, Robyn stole Snowdrop’s wand, locked it in a box and threw away the key, leaving the lights on the Christmas tree to fade away.
At under an hour and a half, including interval, this was a family show pitched at everybody; as Sandi pointed out early on, while introducing the phenomenal Becky Barry as the BSL interpreter (and also Ghost of Hamlet’s father), the important thing about Christmas is that everyone is included. As such, this was a delightfully ramshackle afternoon, with communal carols led by the Fourth Choir, gloriously awful Christmas cracker jokes from Sandi for the adults (‘I can’t magic up snow from thin air’; ‘I think you’ll find that’s exactly where it comes from’), and paper chain making and fun costumes for the kids.
Most important, though, was the show’s emphasis on inclusivity, using the Globe’s own current policies towards casting and collaboration as a means to celebrate diversity and togetherness. Having London’s LGBT+ choir leading the singing was one part of this, and another was pairing a tall, bearded Asian man and a short white woman as identical twins, both as a laugh line and as an appeal to sameness that is not determined by gender, ethnicity or body shape. And there simply aren’t words for the quality of Barry’s BSL interpretation. With a huge grin plastered across her face, she led reinterpretations of carols, improvised versions of insults chosen by an audience member from the Shakespeare Insult Generator, and – in the most hysterical part of the performance – gave a bravura slapstick rendition of the figgy pudding verses of ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’.
The rewriting of the conventions of Christmas shows was also a delight. Jack emerged as the Principal Boy, with even a full thigh-slap at one moment, and broke into a gorgeous rendition of ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ when finally admitting how he felt for Wenceslas. Robyn Goodfellow’s moustachioed villain, meanwhile, revelled in his boos, and milked a hilarious exit through the audience for all it was worth, including a brilliant stand-off with a stunned baby. As Robyn’s tragic backstory was revealed in song by Saadi and Wenceslas – Santa forgot to bring him a present one year – Robyn sat sadly onstage, graciously acknowledging the ‘awws’ and giving vicious side-eye to the one child who continued to loudly boo him.
Shakespeare kept popping up, including in a rewritten ‘12 Days of Christmas’ that involved communal sing along and a Mexican wave of roaring for the ‘Bear to pursue us offstage’ of the first day (a mime that the choir joined with gusto). And the imaginative value of the Globe was foregrounded in a way designed to exploit the theatre’s own imaginative conventions; as Robyn realised, if he could mime a key and throw it away, then the audience could collectively mime finding and returning it. Similarly, the metatheatrical amusement at Saadi and Sandi’s ‘identical’ nature invited a collective investment that was as joyful as the interval paper-chain making, during which the Globe transformed around us.
Ultimately, the show’s ethos was that working together to imagine and create while including everyone is the route to joy and magic; a promise that paid off as the snow cannons exploded and filled the theatre with snow in a theatrical coup that was surprisingly moving. It’s a show that, even as the UK moves to separate itself from the EU, celebrated its European connections (the Christmas tree was donated by the Danish Embassy!); and a show that, in the midst of increased incidents of racism, homophobia and violence in the country, foregrounded LGBT+ and disabled performers and argued for shared humanity regardless of where we come from. It warmed the heart.