REVIEW: Mega Christmas (The Basement)

Mega Christmas
A Jolly German with Mega Christmas writers Barnaby Fredric and Nic Sampson

The Dotcom Show  [by James Wenley]

Mega Christmas
A Jolly German with Mega Christmas writers Barnaby Fredric and Nic Sampson

There is something very fitting about Kim Dotcom being embraced by the acting community. Dotcom, who has transformed from an ‘evil’ internet tycoon to a kiwi folk hero , has been the great story of political theatre that keeps on giving. With a flair for the dramatic himself, and a brilliant media strategy (come over and swim in my pool!), we have been transfixed by the man.

Little wonder The Basement dreamed of having Dotcom in their annual fundraising Christmas show (sorely missed last year); they began a clever social media campaign to get his attention. And it came down to the optic-fibre-wire; while they had named their show ‘Mega Christmas’, his likeness had appeared on the poster, and an understudy was ready to learn his lines, The Basement and their cohorts were still twitter-bombing Dotcom. Then: a follow. Then: Mega Christmas writers Nic Sampson and Barnaby Fredric handed him their script and the Franklin Rd Xmas lights. Then – a tweet: “I’m Santa in the #MegaChristmas play at The Basement. The funniest Xmas play ever. Get ur ticket now. Not for kids 😉 “. That drama was a show in itself.

This is all by way of saying that Dotcom has become the story of Mega Christmas. The show received, well, mega media attention.  It’s a really brilliant decision for both parties – Dotcom gains extra kudos and positive reportage, The Basement is promoted as the place to be and the show becomes a mega commercial success (it was all but sold out by opening, and they added several late night shows).

So, for the many who have come to see Dotcom in the flesh: temper your expectations now. Dotcom does not appear live every night (a big ask to be sure). Like the show’s rotating pool of celebrity and up-and-coming actors, the show is a lucky dip as to what you’ll get each night. While Dotcom was ho-ho-hoing on opening night, on the second night, which I attended, he appeared in a pre-recorded video. Expectations built, the disappointment was palpable.

Luckily, there is a lot more to the show than just Dotcom. After a debaucherous night, it is now the morning after the night before, the night before, the night before Christmas, and as with many Xmas plots, Santa has gone missing. Mega Christmas, directed by Simon Coleman, is an evolution of sorts from the previous monologue driven shows Christ Almighty and Toys; here three re-occurring players Rudolph (Sampson) Elf Rutger (Mick Innes) and stylist Chantelle (Kimberly Crossman) try to track Santa down with the help of an assortment of characters played by different actors each night including Jesus, Joseph Kony, Mrs Claus, and the Mars Curiosity Rover. The story is narrated by Michael Exposition (on my night a whacky Fedric) who sits spouting rhyming couplets in a storyteller’s chair and has a copy of a script inside his thick book “in case people forget their lines”.

The story and style is a mish-mash of children’s pantomime, South Park, and 90s pop-culture. We’re addressed as “drunk boys and girls” and have to help the clueless characters with ridiculously easy tasks – it’s very stupid, but fun. They include, and emphasise, the basic narrative 101 elements that all stories should have, including characters ‘unconsciously’ romantically falling for one another, or a disagreement between core characters that sees a parting of ways only for them to reform even stronger. Added with the quest, that’s all one really needs to say about plot. The humour rarely goes beyond school-boyish; the Joseph Kony sequence, with his child army, approaches the edgiest material (especially the thought of Shane Cortese in black face, as on opening night), but otherwise the gags are fairly standard. Characters from the writers (and this reviewers) childhood’s like Where’s Wally and Carmen Sandiego, though necessarily designed for a range of actors to play (including politician Jacinda Arden) feel obvious and played out. A late arrival by Michael Jackson, including obligatory gags about sneaking down kid’s chimneys, is too close to climax of The Basement’s 2010 Xmas show Toys. An extended scene involving Bjork outstayed its welcome, unable to be saved by even the delightfully bizarre Mia Blake. While low level and outrageous bawdy, bad singing, and Michael Jackson jokes can certainly be enjoyable, the show missed the opportunity for wider satire and social comment. Audiences want to feel intelligent, but Megachristmas never lets them.

The main fun then comes from the sheer silliness of the character acting by the ensemble. On my night, Eli Mathewson (just graduated from Unitec) proves himself one to watch as the over-enthusiastic Bi-Polar Bear, Santa’s inept head of security. James Kupa is rapping media-image obsessed  Kony, operator Andrew Potvin taking evil delight in setting off gun sound effects when Kupa least expects it. But Harry McNaughton completely steals the show as a blonde wigged, slightly unhinged Jesus who recounts an alternative Easter story about the truth of his crucifixion. Sampson is at his comic best as Rudolph, Crossman adds sex appeal and charm as Chantelle, the “hottest person at the North Pole”, however Innes plays Rutger with a low energy drollness that works for his Hounds TV work, but is at odds with the playing style around him.

The Basement is decked to the halls in its gaudy Christmas best, tinsel lining the lighting rig bars, and Potvin seemingly using The Basement’s complete stock of red and green gels. A projected screen behind the actors is used to great effect to suggest the international locations the show takes us on, a low-cost way of upping the production values no end.

And when we finally get to Dotcom, on video or otherwise, he delivers a hilarious new vision of Christmas for the virtual age.

Not without its problems – and disappointments – Mega Christmas is an entertaining and silly way to spend an evening in the lead up to Xmas. With the New Zealand acting talents involved in the show (Lovatt! Driver! Hurst! Ward-Lealand!) you should be guaranteed of some good laughs as they make the characters their own. Ticket sales go towards the refurbishment of The Basement bar and foyer (and soundproofing!), so without wanting to be a reviewer Grinch, get along and have yourself a very Mega Christmas. Just don’t get your hopes up for Dotcom.

Mega Christmas plays at The Basement until 22 December. Details see The Basement.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview review of Opening Night by Kate Ward-Smythe

I recommend Toby Manhire’s NZ Herald column: Man of the year? No… But Dotcom’s still the star

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