Lyceum Christmas Tale #5: Santa is a Superhero, by Denise Mina

This winter, the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh has commissioned a series of Christmas stories from some of Scotland’s best-loved writers, performances of which will be available to view online. Here, we publish an extract from Santa is a Superhero by Denise Mina, along with a link to the film

Neshla Caplan in Santa is a Superhero by Denise Mina PIC: Aly Wight
Neshla Caplan in Santa is a Superhero by Denise Mina PIC: Aly Wight

Note: This is a filmed documentary interview with Santa (Saint Nicolas) who is from Southern Turkey. They are sitting in front of a white background, very boring portrait set up, and they are quite shy. Like the start of Once Upon a Time in Iraq Santa is a small, warm, puckish person, male or female, any age. They have a southern Turkish accent but speak perfect English like a kid. They are quick to smile, self-mocking, giggly, very sweet, affable, and likeable. When they speak they address the camera lens, then the camera person, themselves, the audience or the whole situation. It’s a bit like the Ronnie Corbett monologues when he speaks to his producer, or a Joyce Grenfell monologue, or Mel Brookes 2000 year old man but not as funny as any of those.

(Rehearsing to themselves what they will say as they straighten their clothes)

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“How I became a superhero ...” explain John the German and parents and brothers and sisters... about Vikings and alchemy… the explosion.

(Clears throat)

So: we had this crazy neighbour and everyone called him John the German. But he wasn’t German. He was from Scotland. We called him ‘the German’ because he was ginger, big gingery beard, and no Hittite had ever heard of Scotland. Back then, this is fourth century, people thought Scotland was a conspiracy theory (laughs) Yes, they did. It was just like - miles away and we were like – no way! But it turns out – Scotland is real.

(Camera person muttering ‘no, it’s not’)

Yes it is. I go there every year. It is real. (realizes) Oh- you’re winding me up! (Off stage giggling and Santa is laughing along) Wind up! Hahaha cheeky monkeys! Anyway, you know Spiderman? (to the person behind the camera) D’you know that story? Yeah? (into camera) Spiderman is this kid whose mum and dad are dead. (Thinks about it) Why are they dead?... I can’t remember. They just – they seem to be dead anyway and he lives with his Auntie May and his Uncle Ben and he gets bitten by a radioactive spider. That’s how he becomes Spiderman.

Neshla Caplan in Santa is a Superhero by Denise Mina PIC: Aly Wight

Now, obviously, that’s just a story, fiction, but super hero stories are based on the real life people like me and my good friend John. We weren’t bitten by a spider though. We were sort of – exploded, I suppose.

(Bends side ways to speak to the camera person)

No one ever asks how I got these super powers. It’s weird, isn’t it? Some kids, they get older and they’re like ‘No way! How though?’ They wonder if I have these powers but they never ask how I got them. So many of the details about Christmas are just rumours and all wrong, the chimneys and reindeer and the elves. Where did all that come from? Maybe no one asks because its all so confusing, I dunno.

But it’s odd that no one asks when I’m world famous and have been for over a thousand years. Me and John the German.

Neshla Caplan in Santa is a Superhero by Denise Mina

(to the camera person)

You’ve met John, I’ve seen photos of you with him. He’s very famous. Yes, you do, you have met him. (Points into the camera) And you. (Points to live audience) And you.

(Person behind the camera says something)

Yes you have! I’ve seen photos of you together!

(Person behind the camera says something else)

(Exasperated) I’ve seen – you were standing right next to him, big happy grin, all of you… (to the camera person) You were sitting on his legs. (a little bit hurt) Why would you say that?

John keeps his head down when it’s not Christmas but he’s got too much charisma to hide! He pops up in history sometimes. You do know him, he loaned a horse to Charlemagne? He was at the fall of Constantinople. No? He invented bacon? Big guy, big big beard? Always laughing? He poked Adolf Hitler in the eye with a pretzel? No? You do know him! I promise! You all know him.

I’ll explain: so, our neighbour was John the German –who you say you’ve ‘never met’. So, John was ginger back then, not like now, and he’s always been a massive extrovert. More… enjoys attention more than me.

(To the person behind the camera) I hope people aren’t disappointed when they see me. I don’t look very super hero-ish. I’m a bit shy and this might seems like I talk about myself an awful lot…

(Person behind the camera says something encouraging. Straightens clothes, prepares to tell the story. Into the camera)

So: I was born in the year 324, all the way over there on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea in a city by the sea, in what is called ‘Turkey’ now. Get to Alexandria and then go north to Turkey - there! Nice, warm, great beach. I lived there with my mum and dad and my twenty four brothers and sisters. Families were bigger then.

We would spend most days on the beach, no schools then, and we had jobs of course, from the age of five you had to work. I was ten and I had a nice business selling oxen to travellers. I spend all day in the market (being a ten year old business woman chatting to various people in the market) How’s it hanging, Bathshabel? Hey Arbinnus! (finger guns) Is that a new loin cloth? Looking good my friend! Yeah, hey, nice to meet you, where you from, wanna buy a nice ox? He’s got long eye lashes, he’s really velvety and his name is Colin (shrugs) It was a good living. I had a future ahead of me.

So I’m ten and me and other the twenty four kids live in a very small house. We can hear our parents arguing all the time. Sometimes my mum would cry (upset) I don’t know if you ever see your mum cry? (sad) I love my mum. And my dad. But together… ooft. Not good.

My brothers and sisters were sad and nervous. It’s a lot for kids. And it feels worse at Christmas because you’re expected to be happy, so then you’re sad and disappointed. We were all sad, us kids. It’s.. you know if your parents don’t get on or you’re unhappy at school or maybe you’re just.. feel sad – I don’t know, it’s hard to be a kid sometimes. You can’t make decisions, you don’t know the words for feelings. Overwhelming. Big feelings.

I liked to cheer them up – my brothers and sisters and my parents – that’s what I did. What made me happy. Still what makes me happy. I’d find a flower that looked like face and give it to my dad. I bought a kitten for my sisters. They LOVED it. For my brothers, I let them ride on my oxen. The oxen don’t really like that to be honest, so not for long, but the boys – it made them very happy. And then I’m happy.

Anyway, next door to us lived John the German. From Scotland. How he got there: he was on a Viking boat and there was an argument. (puzzled) In those days John was often in arguments but he’s happy all the time now, he never gets in fights since – well, I’ll get to that.

Anyway, there was an argument and John got chucked off this long ship and he ended up living next to us in Patara.

Yeah, so, it happened on Christmas Eve. All us kids are sleeping, supposed to be. (enjoying this) You get twenty four kids in one room and see how much anyone sleeps, okay? But our parents are fighting bad that night, and we kids, we’re all really upset. All my brothers and sisters are crying. All in one room. Heavy sadness. I go out to the yard and look up at the sky. I wish they felt happy, just for a bit, I want something nice to happen, I want to give them each a gift. Just the right gift.


Denise Mina writes...

“I wanted to use the superhero’s origin story to think about Christmas differently. Small children are far more familiar with these stories than we suppose and the idea of a man from a Coke advert being allowed to creep into their room can freak kids out. But Saint Nicolas’s story is so great! It’s international! It’s about the essence of what makes humans happy! It’s such a great story! It’s been delightful to be part of this lovely project and I hope it fills our audience with half as much cheer as it did me.”

*To sign up to receive The Lyceum's eight free Christmas tales, or to buy tickets for the four live streamed stories, please visit or contact the box office for more information on [email protected] This production has been made possible by Creative Scotland's Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund.