Josie Long has taken the ‘Spirit’ of Christmas to its logical conclusion, with this gently meandering story of a suspected house ghost, and her (very seasonal) efforts to exorcise it. A resident artist at the BAC, she was commissioned to write ‘something Christmassy’. This 25 minute supernatural -comedy is the result.
In a brave twist, Josie delivers her tale of personal trauma from the other-side of the New Year. A fictionalised 2012, complete with brilliantly imagined tabloid headlines “EVERYTHING’S BETTER NOW” … “SORRY WE WERE IN A MOOD BEFORE”. The good news, she assures us, is that 2012 is already an improvement on 2011.
Any ‘evidence’ of her ghost proves amusingly shaky, and each of her attempts to eject it more deliberately ludicrous than the last. There are 23 in total – one for each door of the advent calendar… Well, almost. She concedes defeat upon reaching the ‘proper double doors’ of the 24th, when she decrees the serious business of Christmas must commence. At times the comic asides prove more interesting than the story itself…. Her tactical justification for an over-sized parka and bobble hat being particularly astute. And whilst some of the plot points were clearly primed to accommodate more straight forward stand up material, the story itself proves sweetly compelling.
She carefully debunks her own evidence, whilst playing the part of ‘the believer’ with enough wide-eyed commitment to keep the premise afloat. Yet for those curious enough to probe the very obvious flaws in her account, an altogether different story emerges. Window by window, prematurely eaten chocolate by prematurely eaten chocolate, we begin to see that the ghost in question is no comedy Caspar but a poignant allegory for a broken relationship. Josie Long has reduced me to tears several times before, never this kind.
If viewed as the latest offering from a politically minded comedian, it may disappoint. If viewed as a Christmas story by a young writer (who happens to be very, very funny) it is great. There are moments when the twee-ness of a set-up risks overpowering the gag , when the trademark ‘quirk’ could trample the content; but this is a writer who knows exactly when and how to avert disaster, instantly off-setting any sentimentality with more bleak anecdotes. It is testament to her originality that this ‘Christmas story’ features Ouija boards, night terrors and the maiming of new-born puppies.
Josie is a comedian in total command, both of her material, and her audience’s reactions to it; happy enough to veer off- script to satiate the whims of a particular audience member. There is an unforced vulnerability that elevates her performances, so that even the more predictable observations are gift-wrapped with such charm and self-deprecation, that you find yourself wanting to carry them home and lay them under your own tree . This is perhaps the reason why her earnest re-telling of an argument with her sister ‘You smell like a fart’ / ‘Your bum’s too fat for your face’ had me wheezing, despite ostensibly having been penned by an 8 year old.
This may not have been the most frightening of ghost stories, but it was a beautifully strange and ultimately very moving account of a Christmas that didn’t quite fit the romantic John Lewis mould. And it is one that, in a funny way, will haunt me for weeks to come.
Performed at the The Battersea Arts Center