Written by comedy troupe Frickin Dangerous Bro (Pax Assadi, James Roque and Jamaine Ross) and directed by Jane Yonge, A Frickin Dangerous Space-mas chronicles the intrepid crew of the International Space Station as they prepare to celebrate Christmas and welcome the arrival of a new crew-mate, whilst warily awaiting the Captain’s (Sam Snedden) decision as to who will succeed him in his role.
Throw in interpersonal drama, an alien menace intent on destroying planet Earth and DMX rapping about ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and you have the latest iteration of the Basement’s annual Christmas show.
As the years pass, there is something incredibly reassuring about the event. Despite the change in creative team and subject matter, the shows (at least the ones I have been able to see) all seem keyed into the same vein of psychosexual surrealism (think the office politics control-freakery of Work Do or the adulterous amateur theatrics in The Opening Night Before Christmas).
Compared with previous shows, A Frickin Dangerous Space-mas comes top-loaded with a smidgen more plot. The opening scenes of the show are a little clunky in setting up the world and the characters. But once the pieces are in play, the show works its way into a frenzy as our heroes struggle to come to terms with each other and the existential threat confronting them.
A major asset is the show’s design by Filament Eleven 11 (Bradley Gledhill & Rachel Marlow). The stage is a rectangle running the length of the Basement’s main theatre, with the audience on either side. The set is made up of two portals on stage left and right, with the ship’s bridge centre-stage. It is clean and simple for the cast to play in, while also giving a sense of the crew’s cramped-yet-futuristic existence.
With this exposed setting, a lot falls on the small cast to keep the show’s various components vaguely aligned and on track: these elements include ‘special effects’, some toy models used to depict the exterior of the station; and multiple costume changes as actors move swiftly between multiple characters.
As far as the cast go, there are no weak links – David Correos is hilarious as the socially unaware Calvin, who becomes the driver of the story’s more ridiculous plot turns. If anything, his portrayal is so wonderfully atonal that I wish the script managed to channel it into some weirder situations.
In dual roles, Sam Snedden (as clueless captain Chip AND the station’s doctor Vlad) and Carrie Green (as pilot Hans AND chef/renaissance woman Lindsay), supply a lion’s share of the show’s big laughs. Snedden’s love-struck Vlad – who is more obsessed with becoming a DJ than his real job – walks the line between Baltic cartoon and genuine emotion without falling either side. His accent is probably terrible, but he takes the role so earnestly that it never matters. Chip is the most cliché role in the show, and while Snedden does well with the role, it recedes in juxtaposition with Vlad.
Green creates two very different characters who are funny in different ways – Hans is down-to-earth and strips out any innuendo from his colleagues; Lindsay is comically humble about how overqualified she is compared with her cremates.
Shouldering the show’s most dramatic storyline, Marianne Infante plays Sampaguita, the dedicated second-in-command who is forced to confront what she has lost in order to fit in and rise to her position as an astronaut. She is playing it straight – the type of role that typically does not get many rewards. But because the show is essentially a fantasy, having her there to anchor it provides a dramatic heft that the show sorely needs.
At key moments Sam watches video messages from her father (played by Richard Perillo). Compared with the excess of everyone else, Perillo feels like he is beaming in from a different show. With no forced comedic bits, he delivers a great, understated performance as he awkwardly tries to tell his absent daughter about his day.
As the new crew member, [insert celebrity guest] feels slightly ringed off from the action – the story feels less contingent on their presence (which is 50/50 with most of the Basement Xmas shows). Here, the character feels like an accent to what is already present, which is no bad thing – especially if they are as [insert celebrity guest] was on the night I went.
While I enjoyed the show, I was struck by its lack of confidence in its own ridiculousness. The show is peppered with self-referential moments, where the characters reference a limitation of the production or make an easy contemporary joke at odds with the more specific character-based material.
While they were good for some easy laughs, these moments take away from the situation. The scenario is so ridiculous that it demands a high level of earnestness from the cast – and highlight the show’s strongest comic set pieces (hello slow-motion alien break dance fight). At my show, a thespian forgot which accent went with which character – it felt like a genuine flub but the actors played it off and kept going. That moment – as unintentional as it was – ended up feeling more natural than any of the scripted asides to the audience. While there are only a few moments like this, they are noticeable, and feel out of step with the general tone and approach of the show.
As the crew near the end of their journey, the show’s focus on the diversity of its characters comes to the fore in more dramatic fashion. While this gave the climax of the show some punch (or gravity, har har har) , I found it surprising that the script never interrogated the relevance of Christmas as a Christian holiday to the characters. That might have been an idea too far, but felt like a bit of a missed opportunity.
Those things aside, A Frickin Dangerous Space-mas’s main mission is to be funny – and it is very funny. The cast are great, the story actually gets more interesting as it goes along (no mean feat) and that DMX song needs to be heard to be believed.*
*FULL DISCLOSURE: It may or may not have served as the soundtrack while I wrote this review.
A Frickin Dangerous Space-mas plays at Basement Theatre until 20 December.