REVIEW: The Opening Night Before Christmas (The Basement)

Review by Tim George

Awaiting the celebrity guest in The Opening Night Before Christmas

[Levin la Vida Loca]

Shadows of the North Pole is one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. Written and directed by Rosa-Lynne Martin Shanks (Kura Forrester), it features a cast of amateurs less convincing than that time your little sister forced you and the rest of your family to watch her one-woman show about — oh, who cares, you get what I mean.

Rosa is the director of  the annual Levin Christmas show. Having had her own Road to Damascus in our ‘cultural capitol’ Wellington, Rosa has returned home with big plans for revamping the old standby. Out goes the songs and the fart jokes, and pretty much everything involving Christmas. In comes adultery, drugs and an agit-pop skit about striking elves.

While Rosa and stage manager/co-creator/whipping boy Glenn Innes (Tom Sainsbury) battle over the show’s duh-rection, the show’s cast — amiably aimless butcher Russell Bush (Byron Coll), dim bulb Sheree Mudge (Branley Stent) and clueless Auckland celebrity [INSERT NAME] — struggle to figure out what’s going on.

Shadows of the North Pole is the fictional show-within-a-show which serves as the major set piece of The Night Before Opening Night, the latest brain dead opus from Chris Parker and Tom Sainsbury. Featuring the same affinity for skewering the cheaper, more garish aspects of Kiwiana as their last show, Camping, The Opening Night Before Christmas comes on like Noise’s Off’s inbred country cousin. And that’s a compliment.

Directed by Sam Snedden, the show is a symphony of ranting, fumbled cues, and misplaced sexual tension. The show takes place on the stage of an old theatre, with the audience arranged at small tables as if in a small country theatre. Props are shoved wherever there is room while posters for previous shows are scattered all about. It’s a simple conceit, but it adds a laughable smidgen of ‘authenticity’.

Both overly cheery and non-introspective, Byron Coll is great as Russell, the embodiment of middle New Zealand banality. Brynley Stent is also terrific as a spray-can huffing Sheree, an actress scarred by an early job playing the girl in an old Levin promo campaign. As Glenn, Tom Sainsbury rides the line between vaguely sympathetic and annoying pedant. It’s not as showy as the other roles, but like his character, Sainsbury gets the job done.

Ultimately, this is Kura Forrester’s show. She was the standout of the last Parker-Sainsbury joint, and she gobbles this one up with equal aplomb.

Enough words. The Opening Night Before Christmas is a great show. Check it out.

The Opening Night Before Christmas plays until 20 December. Details see The Basement
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