Douglas Walker Presents: Of Christmas Past is a ‘true-life’ account of how Santa Claus came to be, and the help, hindrances and many identities he had along the way. Walker weaves Coca Cola, Rasputin and Santa Claus into a far-fetched tale of ‘historical truth’ which, by the end, not only makes sense, but makes you want to go to the British Library and investigate the sources for yourself.
Walker pronounces the figure of Santa Claus, ostensibly created by the Coca Cola company as a way to generate lifelong loyal customers, the ‘emperor king of children’s hearts’. In the resultant tale / confession of how Santa came to be, Walker invokes the key figures that populated the pages of your GCSE History textbook: Leon Trotsky, Rasputin, General Franco – along with some debatably less political figures, such as Elvis and Tupac.
Before the narrative more coherently develops, Walker gives the impression of a witty schoolboy imitating his teachers in the common room. Entertaining, but somewhat limited in its comedy. But as the story emerges, the full scale of Walker’s ambition becomes evident.
Santa Claus – notably different to the figure of Father Christmas – appears to have been murdered again and again, and this is possible, Walker argues, because ‘the conjurer knows we don’t believe in magic’. Instead, we mistake an illusion for an explanation – and don’t question it. This logic enables Walker to get away with what he does: weave an impossible tale and make you believe it’s true, like an emperor’s new clothes of historical-comedy.
In delivering his tale, Walker adopts and sheds many an accent. His Russian starts off shaky but once Walker hits his stride, his ability to rapidly switch between American and English, French and Norwegian(?) is impressive, and the characterisations to match are equally performed with gusto and comedic sincerity.
There are plenty of history/Christmas puns – including one involving Rudolf Hess, supposedly a ‘rednose’ soviet mole – which adds some easy relief to a show which can at times be difficult to follow. This isn’t due to boredom - far from it - but the rapidly intelligent pace Walker moves at, and racing characterisations which switch with split-second ease between Russian to French to American, can be occasionally hard to keep up with.
You have to pay attention. The threads he is unravelling traverse quite long and meandering paths, but the effort of following it pays off to see him deliver this excellent piece of absurd yet keenly intelligent comedy.
Douglas Walker Presents: Of Christmas Past is performing 15th – 26th August at Underbelly, Bristo Square (Clover)
For tickets and more information, click here