A Ship Of Fools Theatre Company: Welcome to Paradise

Have you been more naughty or more nice this year? Are you sure?

Santa, it turns out, is a complete and utter git!

A company of gentlemanly vagabonds introduce themselves with a reminder to relax before the “Art” starts. Immensely likeable in the first manifestations of their multi-layered characters, the Captain and Raoul are charming clowns, who quickly engage the audience with their warm ups that leave everyone with a smile on their face. It's barmy, bounding buffoonery.

Mark Winstanley (who plays Raoul) is swiftly sent off to transform into a grubby, comically creepy Father Christmas who wants to know just how nice you have been. If you are lucky, you might get to sit on his knee and get a present. A showering of sweets gets all the boys and girls excited, as their chanting is rewarded with candy canes and love hearts. Even if clowning and audience harassment isn't usually your thing, this is a great deal of fun.

The watershed of the show is the appearance of our emaciated, turban wearing, tinsel shackled elf. The show falls of a cliff at this point and we all fall with it.

Santa, it turns out, is a complete and utter git!

The Captain, played by Charles Shetcliffe, as one of Santa's little helpers, embodies every economic slave everywhere and plays the role beautifully for laughs with a haunted eye on the leftover sweets. The horrific lynchpin of the piece is that everyone carries on laughing. Everyone carries on playing and carries on having a great time as we throw crumbs and beat our elven worker. It only gets darker as it moves forward. The final scene felt a bit anti-climactic though and lacked the impact of the rest of the show.

This is an expertly written and constructed show. The sudden change in tone is completely unexpected and yet the piece follows seamlessly through in it's theme and story. It takes a lot of skill to engineer such a change in mood. The fact that a secular Christmas is held so dear to so many, makes it the perfect target for some really inclusive shaming.

Instead of a love letter to the most wonderful time of the year, what we get is a searingly clever pile of hate mail. Many shows use entertainment to illuminate the dark patches in humanity. Welcome to Paradise does it exceptionally well. 

Reviews by Julia French

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The Blurb

'Welcome to Paradise' lives somewhere between comedy and the dark side of theatre. Part double act, part Christmas show, part nightmare, it toys with the audience and subverts traditional images of Christmas to reveal the mold under the tree. It asks the audience to reflect on the cost and consequences their choices have on others less fortunate than ourselves and reminds them of their complicity in some of the horrors of the world. “I literally pissed myself... the cleverest, darkest, funniest comedy I have ever seen." (Jonny Unknown TFHP).