Släpstick’s HO HO CHRISTMAS SHOW on tour

I have already made reference this week to the tradition of British pantomime but last night I found a worthy substitute, very Christmassy but totally anarchic.

We first saw Släpstick in March 2022 and their show The Roaring Twenties was by far the most enjoyable evening I spent in a theatre last year. To recap a little . . . Släpstick is a group a five guys, each a very talented musician and each very funny and charismatic – think Monty Python with a tuba and a triangle. They are very much in a tradition of radical musical humour that was very prevalent in England in the 1960s with bands like the Temperance Seven and more particularly The Bonzo Dog Do-Da Band. I guess you could also include American outfits like ShaNaNa and even Frank Zappa. But the roots go much deeper and all of the aforementioned could trace their ancestry back to the Cabaret Voltaire, a revolutionary night club created by the Dada group in Zürich in 1916.

But what of Släpstick’s Ho Ho Christmas Show? Well, for a start it was very, as I said, Christmassy. The set was a sort of Christmas market with three wooden, multi-purpose huts and a tree in the corner. There was lots of audience participation and the house lights were constantly being put up while willing punters were press-ganged into their moment of fame. There was a seven year-old boy sitting in front of us who was desperate to be picked and every time the opportunity arose would stand up and wave his pick-me arms in the air.

The show is essentially a series of sketches, mostly musically based. They were all brilliant, especially the only non-funny one in which part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was performed perfectly by just two violins, a double bass and piano.

It would make a very long review if I were to talk about each sketch in detail so I’ll just run through some of them quickly to give you a flavour. There was the boxing match between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus which reminded me of the fish slapping Python sketch, a car chase and a very clever routine using paper cups. There was a hilarious tap-dancing sequence which progressively involved more unlikely footwear culminating in skis plus a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas which, being only five of them, necessitated recruiting members the audience to make up the numbers.

In pantomime there are what is called front-cloth scenes whereby a painted backdrop is lowered so a scene change can take place behind it. One of the performers will fill the time in front of the cloth, hence the name, with a few jokes or a follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-a-long. Släpstick’s version of this was to have Jon Bittman wheeling a kitsch cocktail trolley on stage each time containing some sort of game in which audience member were invited to take part. The young boy in front of us finally got his wish when he was invited to fire a wooden rifle at an on-stage target.

All the troupe, in addition to Mr Bittman deserve a mention – Rogier Bosman, Jaap Rovers, Willem van Baarsen and Sanne van Delft are all accomplished, classically trained multi-instrumentalist and Mr Rovers has a fine singing voice too. They all came together in the final sketch which involved them trying to musically sooth a crying baby. One instrument after another failed to pacify the infant so each time the efforts became more aggressive, finishing up with two alpine horns and large  bass drum.

Of course there was an encore and for this we were treated to Släpstick’s rendition of The Full Monty the guys resplendent in red (of course) knickers and with suggestive trombones.

If you have never seen Släpstick, I urge you to do so and I defy you not to love them. Their Ho Ho Christmas Show will probably go down as my most enjoyable of  2023.   Michael Hasted   23rd December 2023 at Het Koninklijke Schouwburg in The Hague

Släpstick’s Christmas how continues until 6th January. Tour dates can be found here