These shows won't last, buy your ticket today! [by James Wenley]
Turns out Xmas is a lot like the Rugby World Cup, whether you’re into it or not, you simply can’t avoid it – its everywhere. Xmas trees and tinsels have sprouted up everywhere. All I want for Christmas is you is on repeat. A GIANT Xmas Tree bauble has landed in Aotea Square, narrowly missing the Occupy Auckland protestors.
And now even our theatres aren’t safe. A recent tradition in Auckland has been the annual Xmas show at The Basement (The Reindeer Monologues, Christ Almighty!, Toys), where a conveyer belt of different ‘weren’t-you-on-the-tele-once’ actors perform each night.
While there’s no end-of-year Basement show this time round, others have arrived with sleigh bells on to take its place.
This week, two alliterated xmas shows have been going antler to antler. At the Herald Theatre is Outfit Theatre Company’s wicked farce A Criminal Christmas, and Upstairs at the Basement is Thomas Sainsbury’s series of Xmas shorts, A Krazy Kristmas.
A CRIMINAL CHRISTMAS
Outfit Theatre Company have topped off a cracker of a year (which included The Sex Show, Boys' Life and Love After Dark) with A Criminal Christmas, in partnership with STAMP at The EDGE. While The EDGE affords the company with the Herald Theatre and their best production values so far, what wins the season is the edgy and reckless ensemble feel that makes their work unique.
In a suitably funny ‘fish out water’ scenario, a bunch of criminals are invited by probation officer Penny McDougall (Jacqui Numan) to volunteer at a retirement home, and perform the nativity story for the residents. Her grandfather, Dill Macdougall (Mick Innes) owns the facility, but has recently retired and become one of the residents himself. The seemingly impotent Darryl Le Coq (Pete Coates), and mono-browed screaming German nurse Fanny Schemeler (Stef Lawrence) a waiting in the wings to take it over.
Enter the crims. An inspired collections of characters, they aren’t the usual set of criminal archetypes. Sure, there’s violence loving skin head Jed (Colin Garlick), whose eye twitches with anticipation with any prospect of harm, but Garlick plays him with a puppy dog charm that keeps us guessing. Andrew Ford is George, a minor celebrity with a drug habit who is often confused with his gay character ‘Oh stop it’ Harold on Shorty Street. The most sane of the characters, Ford’s quiet dignity is tested by rabid fan and Gypsy Kauta, whose mad energy and physicality is genuinely frightening at times. Anoushka Klaus is the adorably ditzy Daisy, an animal-loving arsonist. Chris Neels displays his usual comic brilliance as financial fraudster Ari Seriposis. And Christ Tempest is a scene stealer as ambigiously European foreigner Petrokak.
They enter with a burst of energy and the place is never quite the same again. There’s lots of inadvertent drug taking, double-crossing, tasering, sex, and blows to the head. I’m loathe to give a way much else of the play; within minutes the plot confounds our expectations and keeps delivering twist after surprising twist. So trust me when I say they make good on their ingredients.
The show was devised by the company, with a writing team of 5, and Director/Head Writer Joel Herbert reigning over the mayhem. To their credit, the narrative is tightly structured, balancing amusing character deviations with the forward story drive. Famously, farce calls for doors and lots of entrances and exits. The Criminal Christmas set (John Parker) has, count em, 12.
The climax, which sees the criminals having to devise the nativity story in order to stay out of jail, is all that you could want from a farce, with complication after complication, with a perfect resolution that wraps the whole package with a bow and a big laugh.
The actors throw themselves across the stage with shameless exuberance, with slapstick being a particularly strong element. They ‘own’ their characters, and the ensemble work adds some extra special chemistry to the shenanigans. Despite their crimes, or perhaps because of them, I enjoy spending time with these characters.
Special mentions to Mike Innes, who spends much of the show in adult nappies, and Chris Tempest who, well… you just have to see it.
A KRAZY KRISTMAS
A Krazy Kristmas, in comparison, is a more casual affair, though equally subversive as a comic distraction from the silliest of the seasons.
It’s a low budget affair upstairs at the Basement – a few boxes, tables and shelves are covered with xmas wrapping paper. The focus is firmly on the writing and performances of 6 yuletide short plays from the mind of Thomas Sainsbury. As it is, it’s a mixed stocking.
We open with Christmas Carollers (dir. Jessica Joy Wood). Tanya (Lee Smith Gibbons) and Pania (Kura Forrester), an appealing double act, practice singing Santa Claus is coming to town in their choir break. Practise soon turns into talk about choir spunk Seth Bethman, who they both crush over, however, Michelle (Samantha Jukes) arrives to tell them about how she’d just been speaking to Seth…
Sainsbury has a unique gift for teasing out the idiosyncrasies of characters, and we warm to the Tanya and Pania. Along with a number of the plays within the show, it suffers from being over-stuffed, losing its way towards the end. A change of emphasis – sketches, rather than short plays – might have kept the laughs and interest consistent.
Christmas in the Park (dir. Thomas Sainsbury) does it well – a one-gag idea about an artistic pitch for Christmas in the Park, which is torn to shreds by the executives because it doesn’t contain enough coca-cola, making its point about Xmas consumerism in an absurdly humorous way. Claire Van Beek and Andrew Hedly play the executives with a fake happiness, with Sam Bunkall the meek and hapless creative.
The Christmas Shift (dir. Thomas Sainsbury), about a couple who try to shoplift a petrol station, contains less overt laughs, but keeps us watching with the beguiling and strangely menacing performance of Roberto Nascimento as the station attendee Peter, who claims he can kill a man in 3 seconds…
Home Shopping (dir. Prue Clarke) sees Vanessa (Lara Fischel-Chisholm), home-shopping presenter extraordinaire shaken by the arrival of the ignorant replacement co-host Renee Lyons. The actresses are a treat, milking the comedy as they go off the script on live TV, but the scenario is a little over-egged.
My favourite of the night is The Car Trip (dir. Thomas Sainsbury). Simon (Nic Sampson) has the job of taking his sister’s boyfriend Grant (Ryan Richards) on a three hour car trip to the family holiday house. Simon’s attempts at making conversation is thwarted by Grant’s typical kiwi bloke grunts and non-committal one word sentences. It’s excruciatingly awkward for them, and very funny for us. A simple, relatable premise coupled with Sampson’s and Richard’s timing makes for a memorable car ride.
The final play, Secret Santa (dir.Thomas Sainsbury), drags, but it’s shocking anti-xmas ending, is worth the ticket price alone. And I mean it. This ending will never let you look at Santa Claus the same way again…
When the stresses of the silly season get too much, it’s good to know that a trip to the theatre can provide some needed comic relief. Both shows provide a subversive and clever diversion to mainstream Christmas values, and should appeal to even the Scroogiest of Scrooges.
A Krazy Kristmas is presented by Fingerprints and Teeth and plays Upstairs at The Basement until Sunday 11th December. More information at The Basement.
A Criminal Christmas is presented by The Outfit Theatre Company and STAMP at THE EDGE and plays until . More information at THE EDGE.
DISCLAIMER: I apologise for the Xmas Puns. I couldn’t help mys-elf.