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Grotto by Chris Dance at the Lass o’ Gowrie, Manchester

Published by: Caroline May on 15th Dec 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May
Has Manchester’s fringe theatre scene ever been in finer fettle?  A testament to its vigour is that among the numerous pantomimes, musicals and children’s shows which infest the city’s venues at this time of year there is still an enthusiastic audience for a brand new play, presented in the tiny space at the top of The Lass o’ Gowrie by young company Hazel Tree Productions.

Playwright Chris Dance puts a cynical spin on the season of goodwill by setting his comedy in Britain’s grottiest Santa’s Grotto, where put-upon shop-girl Laura (endearingly played by a starry-eyed Hazel Earle) is contractually obliged to wear the stripy stockings, fluffy red boots and pointy felt hat of one of Santa’s Little Helpers.

Her peaceful lunchtime sandwich among the sacks of presents, stuffed reindeer and fairy lights is interrupted by co-worker Julie (hilariously lairy Emma Laidlaw), who has disguised herself as an elf and fled the lingerie department for a natter with her friend, even though their manager has already tried to separate her from Laura for being a “bad influence”.

Chris Dance explores the girls’ fundamentally different natures with tart characterisation and plenty of wit - Julie is the party-loving singleton who stashes gin, brandy and half-eaten kebabs in her handbag, while romantically-thwarted Laura is the kind of person who revises for a game of Trivial Pursuit after the Queen‘s Speech.  Their tête-à-tête is interspersed with fleeting appearances from Father Christmas himself - David Slack’s downbeat northern Santa is straight out of The Last of the Summer Wine, and his white curly wig wouldn’t disgrace Lady GaGa.  And Mike Seal as Clive, the unworldly Elvis-obsessed busker, tops and tails the story beautifully, ending with a rousing sing-along.

Director Jake Murray - late of The Royal Exchange, where he was responsible for the excellent Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and A Conversation - makes a welcome return to Manchester with this sweet and funny production.

Early booking is recommended, as tonight was sold out.  May I also advise bringing a shoe-horn and a plunger - one for squeezing into your seat with at the beginning, and the other to extricate yourself at the end.

Grotto is on at The Lass o’ Gowrie, 36 Charles Street, Manchester M1 7DB until Saturday 17 December 2011
Tickets:  £6 from
Performances: Thurs & Fri @ 7pm & 9pm; Sat @ 4pm & 7pm



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