Sunday, 18 December 2016

2016: Santa, Baby - Budding Theatre

Santa, Baby – A showcase of ten-minute plays inspired by Christmas songs.  Budding Theatre at Canberra Theatre Centre, The Courtyard, December 16-17, 2016.

Producer – Kirsty Budding; MC – Jasper Lindell; Tech – Ashleigh Robinson, Jaeden McLaughlin, Craig Lesueur and Nick Foong.

Mother and Child by Kate Roediger, directed by Domenic Mico, performed by Alison Bigg, Peter Fock, Andrew Wallace and Paul Jackson.
Not What You Expected by Judith Peterson, directed by Rachel Hogan, performed by Helen Way.
Gingerbread or Smarties? written and directed by Zoe Swan, performed by Austen Saunders and Robert Shiells.
Christmas in Yorkshire by Harriet Elvin, directed by Rob Defries, performed by Kate O’Sullivan, Kate Blackhurst, Karla Bogaart and Elain Noon.
Christmas Cheers by Frances McNair, directed by Kitty Malam, performed by Jaslyn Mairs, Lachy Agett, Breanna Macey and Patrick Galen-Mules.
Christmas Fairy by Adele Lewin and Nigel Palfreman, directed by Adele Lewin, performed by Adele Lewin.
Reindeer in Red written and directed by Kirsty Budding, performed by Jess Waterhouse, Chantel Johnston, Katrin Praseli, Angela Perrotta, Kirsty Budding, Vandana Jaiswal, George Pulley and Grace Jasinski.
Statistically Speaking written and directed by Greg Gould, performed by Felicity Knott and Philip Meddows.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 17

Budding Theatre, its very name a play on the name of its originator, Kirsty Budding, has now established a stage presence for “budding playwrights, directors and performers” over its three years’ life.  “We stage theatre with and for adults, young adults and children across a range of genres.”

This year’s “Christmas play showcase” was a mainly light and mostly irreverent take on the assumed purpose of Christmas in celebrating good will to all and sundry, even including Santa’s relationship with his reindeer employees.

Though the format is reminiscent of the Short and Sweet competitions for 10-minute plays, and these plays vary considerably in quality of writing, directing and acting, the evening as a whole, compered competently with a neat line of humour by Jasper Lindell and bookended by three-part singing from the three Angels – Judith Peterson, Fiona Robertson and Michelle Priest – made for an entertaining, even occasionally thoughtful, two hours. 

Seen from my perspective behind my Seniors Card, this was a Young Adult show in tone, yet some issues behind what was often a stand-up comedy approach were significant for all ages.

The mother, Mary, with her husband Joseph and as-yet unnamed child, are refugees having made the perilous journey by recalcitrant donkey across a vast desert to the border of a country of safe haven.  But the border protection policy of donkey turn-backs, leaves them stranded – without  even the donkey, which has to be quarantined.  The playing of the border guards as characters in a farce to my mind was overdone.  The point of the story in Mother and Child was made, but the farce took over, so the depth of despair that refugees must feel today and which would have silenced our laughter, even in just ten minutes, wasn’t achieved.

What we didn’t expect in the next play was to find ourselves in the presence of "God", at the launch of her new book – with wine, cheese and signed copies.  Her name is Trisha, played with an amazing eccentric kind of grace by Helen Way.  She is clearly not happy with her humans – mainly men, of course – who have written their books taking her name in vain.  The script of Not What You Expected is very clever and the performance well directed and very funny – and the serious issue of the misuse of belief and religious power is not lost.  If there were a competition, I would have to say this was the best play of the night.

Gingerbread or Smarties? saw two young men’s friendship breaking up on their annual road trip.  Though the actors needed more training and experience to bring this off, and the script could be developed more, the play is an interesting variation on the celebration turning sour, and sad, theme.  In this case, each of the young men escape the expected demands of their families’ Christmas, but on this occasion find themselves setting up the same kind of petty conflicts (over what radio station to play while they drive, or whether they prefer gingerbread or smarties) until the ultimate point of breakup.

If you remember, as I’m sure you will, the Monty Python sketch called The 4 Yorkshiremen, then you will recognise that Harriet Elvin has borrowed the idea (with permission) and extended it to ten minutes as the four now wealthyYorkshire women, with pretty good accents, challenge each other with stories about their poverty-stricken past.  Though perhaps a little too long compared with the shorter sharper original, Christmas in Yorkshire worked very well and got the appropriate laugh from the young adults on the final line: “But you try and tell the young people today that ... and they won’t believe ya’.”

Christmas Cheers with Jack Frost behind the bar to which Santa retires – he drinks only milk to avoid corrupting children – was an absurdist play so deliberately disjointed that you had to be a young adult to follow all the non-sequiturs.  Breanna Macey’s performance as the jazz singer Noel was a very high point.  It was no wonder Santa fell in love (or just lust?), and I did wonder whether the children would be corrupted by such a thought.

Adele Lewin had such a sad story to tell as Crystal, the top-of-the-Christmas-tree fairy once famous for her beauty who has grown old, and who now year after year can only look forward to a life among the secondhand goods in an op shop.  Though Crystal could be a bit of a bore and was even rather paranoid, Lewin’s performance in Christmas Fairy left us all feeling seriously upset about anyone left alone at Christmas time.

The four fashionably green reindeers – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen – were bitchily mortified when Red-Nosed Rudolph terribly unfashionably appeared on the catwalk dressed in red.  The Young Adults in the audience found it all lol funny, of course, until Santa (remember – dressed in red) castigated the little bitches, and promptly had consensual sex with Rudolph (played, of course, by a woman – indeed, the author of the play Reindeer in Red).  I think the theme was something about politically correct behaviour and non-discrimination at the office Christmas party.  But it was too funny to bother about that.

The night concluded with a probably unintended nod to the recently formed The Arts Party, whose policy (currently at the draft stage) ends with a strong statement about supporting Science as the other side of the Arts coin.  Statistically Speaking  is a ten minute apparently extremely unlikely romance entirely predicted by the use of statistics by Milton to the great surprise of Steph – except for one point.  The statistics on women’s behaviour make it virtually inevitable that Steph will include cranberry in her daily diet.  But she doesn’t.

Though by this stage of the talk, Steph has completely changed her view of life and thoroughly fallen for Milton, he must say No without this piece of his statistical jigsaw in place.

Whatever we should make of this conclusion, which wasn’t after all as Christmassy as green reindeers, it was quite thoughtful about the nature of love and good will in a nerdy world.

Felicity Knott as Steph and Philip Meadows as Milton
in Statistically Speaking by Greg Gould

© Frank McKone, Canberra

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