[Ho Ho No]
Aside from the Auckland Theatre Awards (a.k.a. the Hackmans), The Basement Christmas Show is the theatrical highlight of the holiday season. Each year, the Basement Theatre commissions the hottest theatrical talent to create a holiday hit that not only sees a smorgasbord of Auckland theatre practitioners and celebrities take to the stage, but also operates as an annual fundraiser to support both the venue and its artistic developments. This year, that responsibility falls to A Slightly Isolated Dog, a Wellington based theatre group who made their mark in Auckland with Don Juan in 2016 and Jekyll and Hyde earlier this year.
The aforementioned practitioners and celebrities take on a guest role, this year being the eponymous Santa Claus. In past seasons the risk for potential punters was deciding which night to attend the show, as there are inevitably fan-favourites. This year, however, it really doesn’t matter who you see. Where past guests have either taken on cameo roles (A Basement Christmas Carol, Hauraki Horror) or gone through a non-stop parade of improvisational endurance (Jesus Christ Part II), on the opening night of Santa Claus guest Rose Matafeo spent most of her time seated with the audience.
The ensemble (Hayley Sproull, Jack Buchanan, Andrew Paterson, and Susie Berry) who devised the show along with Sam Clavis and director Leo Gene Peters, have a solid grasp on their characters (a very famous and very French theatre group) and are able to both engage and play off the audience with great ease, but with no real plot to the show and a heavy reliance on audience interaction the narrative drive wanes rather quickly.
Santa Claus ticks all the boxes of what to expect from The Basement Christmas Show (comedy, songs, guest performers), yet, these components simply don’t add up to the sum of their parts. While not to insinuate any significant cultural divide between the accepted theatrical practices of Auckland and Wellington, as their previous works suggest the contrary, A Slightly Isolated Dog have provided an entertaining show, but one which doesn’t quite manage to feel like past years’ festivities. But, then again, the same goes for the Hackmans.
Santa Claus plays at The Basement until 20 December.