I am a 21-year-old on the cusp of some semblance of adulthood, currently sat in pyjamas drinking a beer and watching a Stephen Fry show at nearly 4am; I am not the target audience of Slung Low’s 59 Minutes to Save Christmas, my age meaning I lack the innocence to truly believe in the magic. However, it is a magical experience nonetheless– though not in the fairy-dust, glittering, anything-is-possible way, but in a unifying, simple way.
Had I seen it age 9, I would’ve adored it. I adored it anyway, but not in the same way.
59 Minutes is panto-simple in plot. We are recruited, along with Jack, to the 1st Royal Christmas Brigade, on an adventure to stop Professor Meanwood from sapping away all the Christmas spirit from the Barbican Centre and beyond. Of course, we succeed.
At age 9, I would’ve been excited by the engaging and charming characters, and keen to be at the forefront of all the action. No doubt that my younger self would’ve been shouting the loudest to tell Fairy La-La she’s a stunner, and laboured to ensure that her Christmas tree decoration looked as good as could be. There was running around and plenty of spectacle and silliness to keep little Rosie from getting bored, but enough storyline to feel like there was always a goal in sight. Plus, there was pink smoke and the adults accompanying me would’ve been made to do a silly walk for the best part of an hour, adding to the entertainment.
So, 59 Minutes is joyous at its most basic level for its target audience. It’s tough to suspend my disbelief enough to believe that there’s really a military operation to save Christmas going down in the Barbican, though, and so I found entertainment and magic elsewhere. Unlike a lot of shows, Slung Low are doing very little to pander to the adults; 59 Minutes isn’t drenched in double entendre or full of hidden meanings. It is nearly purely for children, but in being so is for adults.
Bear with me a tangent. When I was about 6 years old, my parents took me to Disneyland Paris. I was (and still am) a lover of Disney, and back then, without any knowledge of Feminism to distract me, I worshipped the Disney Princesses like goddesses. In the magnificent parade, there was one shimmering, shiny, aggressively pink float with all of the Disney Princesses aboard, waving like the royalty they might as well have been. Apparently my face was so full of sheer delight, that both of my parents started crying.
That’s not dissimilar to what Slung Low are doing with this show; they are giving parents the chance to watch their kids enjoy themselves, which is enough entertainment in itself.
Ok, so I didn’t go with a kid. I’m not even the sort to be broody, but the energy and elation of the children was infectious. I was so interested to see how the children reacted, and the conviction with which they believed in the magic. I’ve waded through enough after-school specials and Disney movies to know that it was going to end happily ever after for the Royal Christmas brigade, but I felt all the tension through the children, helped along by some really lovely performances.
That’s not all there is for the slightly older generations to enjoy, though. As pointed out in a promotional video with Slung Low’s Artistic Director, Alan Lane, the Barbican is populated by a lot of ‘very empowered people’. Those involved in 59 Minutes don headphones, and scuttle about the Barbican for all to see. The headphones are used to prevent actors from shouting all the time, because, as the programme puts it ‘it’s more interesting when they don’t have to shout all the time’: and it is, because it gives these lovely moments where the cast comment on those around you, calling them ‘infected’ as Professor Meanwood’s pink smoke sucks out their festive spirit. There’s never anything mean, but it feels just gossipy enough to be exciting. As the actors aren’t shouting, it means the ‘infected’ people around you may not always know exactly what’s going on, which, again, creates some really excellent points. You are treated to the sight of the Barbican’s ‘empowered’ punters reacting to a snowman in an orb on the loose and a Christmas tree attached to a remote control car, and their bemusement is hilarious and delightful. In addition, some of the settings have incredible detail – especially the toy making room, which is full of presents with individual hand written labels, so even though a lot of it is in a very orange foyer there’s still visual interest.
Really, there are a lot of flaws in the show. The plot isn’t exactly mindblowing, the pacing can feel a little off as the group has inevitable stragglers, etc., etc… none of that really matters. Because to focus on those things is to kind of ignore the point.
The programme rightly points out that ‘Christmas is brilliant’ because it ‘makes you pay more attention to the really magical things in life’. The really magical things in this production are that it makes you feel like part of something really special; that it sparks an enthusiasm in little people and thus brings joy to those around them; that it makes you laugh and that it means that, even at age 21, I get to go home and give my mother a homemade Christmas tree decoration and a certificate with my name on and see the nostalgic, proud smile on her face.
It took me a couple of attempts to get this review-type-thing down in a way I was happy with. I am relatively new to this writing thing, so if you have feedback, do let me know!