Commiserating a corporate consumerist Christmas, Santa Must Die comes to the Bramall Rock Void where Leo Owen caught the show

As the title suggests, Santa Must Die is far removed from the normal Christmas theatre fare. Inspired by conversations with people in Bradford and Newcastle on zero-hour contracts, writer Rosie MacPherson examines the gig economy, using a Christmas lens to further expose the harsh realities, and rather cleverly literally staging her findings in the form of a punk gig.

Stood on a makeshift stage of packing pallets in front of a pathetically small Christmas tree, masking work attire with a Santa Must Die t-shirt, Robin Ravi awkwardly introduces the band. Supported on keyboards by co-lyricist Sean Ryan, Ravi’s opening rap about the “bleak midwinter” is interrupted by the late arrival of livewire band mate Nadia (a fiery Verity Bajoria).

From here, the show takes an unexpected turn revisiting key moments in Abed and Nadia’s complex relationship that inspired their songs. Hearing Nadia singing in a cupboard after walking out on her shift, Abed sees an alternative brighter future for both in one of the show’s sweeter re-enacted flashbacks. Abed’s Christmas spent trying to meet an Amazon quota of twenty deliveries per hour is food for thought while experiences as a care home manager during Covid lockdowns are undoubtedly triggering for many. Nadia and Abid are polar opposites and watching their messy co-dependent friendship unfold gives the show heart and provides relatable leads for the audience.

Billed as the “greatest punk rock band this side of the 70s”, Santa Must Die’s songs are far from slick but instead have the rawness of the genre, amusingly playing on popular Christmas numbers, such as “Walking in the Air” and “All I want for Christmas is You”. Lyrics are displayed on the back wall with accompanying images in karaoke style with a bouncing Santa head. The show’s message is far from subtle with lines like “Work, work, work, die”, “Free the elves, let them be paid a living wage” and “All merch and no Christmas spirit”.

Audience interaction is encouraged with panto banter and cracker pulling, coupled with the obligatory charades and politically themed jokes. It’s an interesting mix of familiarity and unpredictability, forcing the audience to squirm a little and feel some of the discomforts its lead duo face.

Santa Must Die is a socialist comment on the pitfalls of working in retail and being a struggling artist, firmly ensuring “Festive cheer stops at the…doors”. Original, highly entertaining and thought provoking, much like Dickens’ Christmas Carol its propelled by social commentary and forces its audience to reflect. A refreshing angle for a Christmas show from Archipelago Arts Collective.

Santa Must Die showed at the Leeds Playhouse 12th-16th December before moving on to Manchester: