Review by Daz Gale
This Christmas, Southwark Playhouse are bringing audiences the European premiere of Who's Holiday.
Imagining what happened after the events The Grinch, this is definitely one production determined to make the Yuletide gay.
As it's Dr Seuss, there's obviously a lot of rhyme.
The question is can I keep this up the whole time?
If you remember Cindy Lou-Who from The Grinch (the sweet little girl who befriended the green beast), Who's Holiday charts her life following that memorable Christmas Eve. Whereas other stories take the villain of the story and show them in a positive light such as Wicked or the Maleficent movies, this show aims to do the opposite - taking a sweet and loveable character and showing the darker side of her personality.
RuPaul's Drag Race legend Miz Cracker takes on the role of Cindy Lou-Who. Having to remain on stage for the entire show with no other cast members (though one audience member does get to join her briefly) she gives a wonderful performance, charming everyone effortlessly and showcasing a brilliant knack for comic timing. This works at its best in the moment she ad-libs, never breaking character but managing to add to the sweetness of it all.
The writing from Matthew Lombardo is pleasant enough albeit inconsistent in parts. Full of innuendo and hilarious one-liners, you are never far away from the next chuckle. With the writing told almost entirely in rhyme akin to Dr Seuss’ original style, it is a fantastic homage to the classic story, balancing the fine line between tribute and parody. Even though the story is told over a brisk hour, there is the sense that not much actually happens with a couple of the sequences feeling slightly uneven compared to the severe highs featured elsewhere in the show.
Kirk Jameson’s direction makes the most of the always versatile and entertaining space in Southwark Playhouse with even the slightest movement Miz Cracker does feeling meticulous in execution. Justin Williams’ design is a real highlight of the production, with Cindy Lous cosy home fully fleshed out in detail in an intimate and festive recreation that easily immerses you into her world. Kieron Johnsons lighting is another fantastic element, bathing the audience in a warm glow as they enter and transforming the mood throughout the production.
There are a smattering of musical numbers featured throughout the production, composed by sound designer Mwen. While a Hamilton-esque rap number featured early on doesn’t quite land in the way intended, an audience singalong to a Christmas classic later on sets the tone perfectly and ensures everybody leaves with a smile on their face.
Who’s Holiday is at its best when Miz Cracker is interacting with the audience. Whether it is the poor unexpected victim in the front row who becomes the butt of jokes throughout the show, the various people she offers treats too or even the brilliantly timed sneeze of an audience member, causing her to improvise. Miz Cracker is able to command the attention of an audience and have them in the palm of her hand throughout. This is a testament to her own stage presence and had me wishing there were more opportunities for this throughout, with the thought the script was restricting her abilities somewhat.
This production might not quite have stolen my heart though admittedly it did grow three sizes during this production (my heart, that is). While the writing might be uneven, it can be wickedly funny at times, making this a fun hour of festive merriment. It's the fantastic performance from Miz Cracker that elevates Who's Holiday to make it even more enjoyable. While it might not set the world on fire, it successfully manages to give us the tiniest bit of warmth in this beautifully short but sweet offering.
Who's Holiday plays at Southwark Playhouse until 7th January 2023. Tickets from https://tuckshopuk.com/event/whos-holiday
Photos by Mark Senior