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Review: Stocking Fillers at Royal Court Studio ***1/2

Upstairs, Adam McCoy’s Dick Head (Whittington) is doing battle with Drew Schofield’s King Rat in traditional Royal Court fashion.

But downstairs in the Royal Court Studio, audiences are being treated to a much more disparate range of seasonal stories, penned by seven members of the theatre’s writing groups.

While the show is called Stocking Fillers, it could perhaps equally be titled selection box or pick ‘n’ mix, because it brings together a range of styles, genres and subject matter in one evening’s enjoyable entertainment.

New stories present themselves every 15 minutes, with the same four-strong cast moving seamlessly from one playlet to the next. It means if one isn’t necessarily to your taste, wait a few minutes and there will be another one along. Rather like the 86 bus.

In fact, with tickets only £15, each mini-drama costs about the same as a single bus trip. All aboard!

It opens with Michael Hartless’ neatly plotted comedy melodrama Mother of Jesus which sees a competitive mum (Angela Simms) forgetting the true spirit of Christmas in her Machiavellian attempt to secure her daughter the leading role in her school’s Nativity, while in Stewart McDonald’s Christmas is for Kids, it’s the seasonal spirit generated by a much-missed dad which threads through the action.

Charlie De’Ath and Jamie Peacock are very amusing as two thespy halves of a panto donkey who clash over artistic differences in Liam Gillies’ Donkey Show, which has some deliciously sly dialogue that regular theatregoers in particular will appreciate.

Above: Jamie Peacock and Charlie De'Ath in Donkey Show. Top: Angela Simms and Charity Bedu-Addo in The Face of Christmas. Photos by Andrew AB Photography.

And The Half Angel, penned by Janine Hammond, provides Simms with another plumb part, this time as a cynical shop assistant who gets a Christmas Eve visit from her beatific guardian angel (Peacock) à la It’s a Wonderful Life. Just with more stinging one liners.

If that all seems quite light-hearted, there’s a sudden – nay sobering - change of tone at the start of the second half which opens with David Sandall’s Last Christmas. The clue is in the title, with De’Ath playing a dad whose attempts to spread some joy amid his family hide a much more sombre story.

Incidentally, if you’re still playing Whamageddon, take note of the title and pop your fingers in your ears for the first minute of the action or risk disqualification.

Overall though, there’s a comedic tenor to the evening, and in The Face of Christmas, Ste Mc provides Simms with her third memorable character, playing an elf with attitude ruling the roost in Santa’s North Pole workshop.

The final stocking filler sees a return to the Nativity story, at least if it involved a bickering, hapless Scouse couple (Peacock and Charity Bedu-Addo) and the stable was a shed in a snowstorm somewhere just outside Wrexham.

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