Sunday 23 December 2018

Theatre review: The Boy Under the Christmas Tree

A low-key but seasonal end to my theatre year with one of the King's Head's LGBT Christmas offerings. Glenn Chandler's The Boy Under the Christmas Tree does what it says on the tin, opening with call centre manager and aspiring standup comedian Lawrence (Jamie Loxton) waking up hungover on a lonely Christmas morning to find a seemingly lifeless Boy (Daniel Grice) wearing only wrapping paper under his tree. Taking it remarkably well with an "I just can't be doing with this today" attitude instead of, say, screaming, he calls the emergency services who dismiss it as a prank. Instead he has to rely on an incompetent doctor neighbour (Sam Sheldon) who finds that, while not actually dead, the Boy doesn't seem to be alive either, and since this seems suspiciously like a fairytale suggests that Lawrence kiss him to wake him up.

It has the desired effect, and Lawrence ends up with the robot-like Boy, who says he doesn't have a name until he's given it with another kiss (he's eventually named Billy,) and is a present who'll stay loyal forever.

Having recently been dumped by his husband Lawrence is vulnerable and tempted, but as he begins to contemplate giving up complicated relationships in favour of a pretty boy built to his own specifications, Santa arrives to announce there's been a terrible mistake and Billy belongs with someone who didn't cheat on his husband like what Lawrence did.

The Boy Under the Christmas Tree is a bit slight and underbaked but ultimately rather sweet, and Loxton and Grice make a likeable pair as they muddle through the very loosely A Christmas Carol-influenced story. The trouble is it's very clearly meant to be primarily a comedy, and apart from the very occasional mild chuckle the jokes just aren't funny - not just to me, the whole audience were silent throughout this afternoon's performance despite a palpable feeling of warmth towards the play (it probably fares better in the late-night slot it occupies most of the week, with a more boozed-up audience.)

No amount of gurning and mincing from Sheldon as the doctor and policeman helps get laughs (for my money I only find that offputting) but he's better in his third role as the drunk, Lancastrian Santa who brings an edge of menace to proceedings and with it some tension that helps keep the energy going. I was worried at the opening that this was going to be a cringe-inducing 70 minutes but while it never tickled my funny-bone, Chandler's play isn't without its positives.

The Boy Under the Christmas Tree by Glenn Chandler is booking until the 5th of January at the King's Head Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: PBG Studios.

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