Only a couple of days to go and Santa Claus will be coming to town. Ho ho ho! Too late. He’s here already and sorting out the naughty from the nice at 3MT theatre in Afflecks, Manchester.

You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, I really don’t advise it. It’ll only make him worse. Mark Winstanley’s stunning performance as a buffon Santa in Welcome to Paradise manages to be hilarious and compellingly ghastly at the same time. Buffon is a form of clown who combines enormous charm with the grotesque, and Winstanley is an expert. He is mesmerising and terrifying by turns, and you don’t know what turn he’s going to take next. What has he got in that sack?

Then he invites one of his elves to join him. From the moment Charles Shetcliffe comes on, it’s clear that we’re in different and disturbing territory. Dressed in a costume of rags, Shetcliffe is starving, and Santa needs to feed him. This is the beginning of a relationship that is both horrifying and yet entirely accurate as a satire on the relationship between the West, the Third World and Christmas. Some people laughed, possibly because they didn’t know what else to do.

This is a powerful hour of extremely well-made theatre (please don’t be put off by the word clown) and I can’t recommend it highly enough. But before you see it, you also get to watch, in the first half, From the Cradle to the Bin, a ‘work in progress’ looking at how we treat people in care. Even as it currently stands, it’s a great piece, as though Samuel Beckett collaborated with Joe Orton. Winstanley and Shetcliffe are joined by Evie Fehilly in an everyday story of care home folk that, from my experience of my mother’s incarceration, isn’t even satire. Every laugh is a laugh of recognition.

3MT is a small venue, accessed from the Oldham Street entrance to Afflecks. It’s in the pub theatre tradition that started back in the 80s, and puts on some excellent work. It is, however, small. There are only 50 seats. But even so, I highly recommend sitting on the first or second row. That way you’ll get the full show.

By Chris Wallis, Theatre Editor

golden-star golden-star golden-star golden-star golden-star