REVIEW: Le Basement XXXmas Cabaret (Basement Theatre)

Review by Irene Corbett

[Who’s Stuffing Your Stocking This Christmas?]

It’s a Christmas miracle, and the one the world (or Aotearoa) needed. This year there is extra emotion in the festivities that are the Basement’s Annual Christmas Show. We have much to celebrate and be thankful for. Sitting in a room pressed up against happy, drunken, theatre goers feels positively illegal and the excitement of the evening threatens to outshine anything that could happen on stage. 

Happily, Le Basement XXXmas Cabaret employs the tried and true metatheatrical formula that is popular with merry audiences and feeds off the energy generated by a boisterous audience. On opening night the show was clearly made all the richer for the Basement community and the strong contingent of friends who were in attendance. There was the sensation that this was as much an elaborate staff party as it was a publicly accessible theatre. That being said, the show itself is excellent and will be equally enjoyable to an audience that do not personally know the cast.

Le Basement Cabaret is the home of partners and performers Zsa Zsa and Alex (Ava Diakhaby and Bryony Skillington), Le Basement’s backstage crew/maintenance woman and resident ugly duckling Poppy (Brynley Stent), a family of rats, and some bad plumbing. The real world is thinly veiled. Though Covid is only mentioned directly a couple of times, the economic pressure of the pandemic is echoed in the main plot – Le Basement Cabaret will be forced to close its doors if Alex and Zsa Zsa cannot fundraise 100,000 dollars to save their venue. 

The action takes place on the final show night as Zsa Zsa and Alex scrabble to rehearse their performances while Poppy runs about trying to keep the venue from falling apart and yearning to fulfil her dream of being on the stage. We are treated to a couple of hilarious numbers. Diakhaby and Skillington are great foils for each other and their singing (and sexy choreography!) is just as good as their acting, serving Hayley Sproull’s original music well.  The cabaret numbers serve up some good solid laughs and more than make up for some of the less tasteful jokes that earn the R18 restriction.

Stent is brilliant as Poppy, a comedic character belonging to a tremendous tradition of beleaguered clowns. The affected accents of characters Zsa Zsa and Alex do detract a little from Poppy’s characterisation but that’s a negligible complaint for a show which is otherwise, as promised, horribly funny and terribly entertaining. 

Faced with paltry ticket sales and imminent closure, Zsa Zsa enlists the help of a celebrity guest. The show season features a different celebrity guest each night. Our guest, Laura Daniel was thrown into a couple of songs as Zsa Zsa and Alex’s performance starts to go ‘tits up’. Daniel managed to push the evening to wet-your-pants territory a couple of times, which is really saying something as the cast frequently had the audience in stitches. The joy of this show rests in the strength of a familiar plot paired with plenty of character generated comedy and original music with witty lyrics. The show is alternately heartwarming, comforting, crude, and hysterical. 

As we filed out at the end, a fellow audience member commented with tears of laughter in his eyes “that’s what we needed, it’s just what we needed.” It might be too rude to take your mother to, but Le Basement Xxxmas Cabaret is the show we need.

Le Basement Xxxmas Cabaret plays at Basement Theatre November 19 to December 19, 2020. 

Directed by Leon Wadham.
Written by Kura Forrester and Hayley Sproull
Original Music Written by Hayley Sproull
Original Music Produced by Jason Smith 

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