Doomsday and Christmas at the theatre

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

Written by Alex Lodge, Cherie Jacobson and Edward Watson
Directed by Uther Dean
BATS Theatre | November 29-December 15

The traditional pantomime is, to my experience, an optimistic and life affirming affair, so in these times of economic pressure and end of the year/end of the world stress, it’s quite a relief to see a healthy dose of loneliness, cynicism and apocalypse-fear in The Island Bay Loners’ Doomsday Christmas Sing-Along.

In an effort to really celebrate the last Christmas ever with the verve it deserves, rich, eccentric opera singer Gloria (Loren Martin) invites the world to her mansion for a BBQ on the Island Bay Island. Unfortunately, given the inevitable end-of-days-panic (and the lack of transport of the Island), the only people who manage to turn up are a pair of feuding twins, a street magician, and two stranded English tourists. Our oddball loners assemble on the front lawn and, with surprisingly clear heads, celebrate the end of the world and recount memories of unrequited Christmases. The writing fires jokes off at a huge rate of knots, and the characters are full on. This leads to a few performers playing pretty hard which undermines the farce at times.

With pantomime-esque panache, the gang regularly break into classic Christmas songs. The carols and songs are woven well, and inviting the audience to join in the carolling is a really nice thing to do. It helps that our accompanying pianist, played by Adrianne Roberts, gives a jaw-achingly funny performance as Ruby, Island Bay’s answer to Lynn of Tawa.

The set is a real highlight. Simple but surprisingly beautiful, a wooden Pohutukawa Tree with superbly realised flowers, a picnic table, some fairy lights and the Lonely Rock invoke Island Bay wonderfully. The lighting, sound and special effects work together really well and, with a wink and a nudge, create a cohesive, satisfying Christmas show.

It’s a great premise for a show, but with slightly too much in common with a circa panto, The Island Bay Loners’ Doomsday Christmas Sing-Along would struggle to stand up outside of the festive season.

*   *   *

Written by Jason Charsland
Additional material by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford
Directed by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford
BATS Theatre | December 6-15

With no cast to hide behind and no one to share the stage with, Jason Charsland is thrilled to offer us The ImpoSTAR. Framed as the solo show that Jason Charsland has always dreamed of, The ImpoSTAR is really an expression of an obsession with music and a celebration of the Diva. Instead of a narrative, we are treated to seeing Charsland meet the exhausting challenge of hitting each impression.

The ImpoSTAR works because Charsland is, well, very good. Wearing a black shirt, black tracksuit pants, running shoes and a mic, and armed only with a number of dubious wigs, Jason Charsland dominates a huge range of impressions with ease and passion. They’re impressively thorough and convincing (Judy Garland and Johnny Cash), or totally hilarious (Britney and Elmo). Impressions range from homage of performers and songs to gentle parodies (Liza Minnelli singing ‘If You Were Gay’).

Technically, the show is very good. The lighting and smoke transform BATS into a concern venue and a simple set effectively hides the plethora of costume items. More importantly though, it is clear Charsland really loves what he is doing. He cares about these songs and is excited to perform them. And it’s his charm and sheer determination to meet the challenge he’s set himself that wins the audience over within seconds.

A real treat, The ImpsSTAR returns to Circa Theatre in their 2013 season. Don’t miss it.

*   *   *

By Charles Dickens
Presented by Ray Henwood
Circa Theatre | December 7-22

The great Dickensian tradition of public readings is rehashed by Circa Theatre and Ray Henwood in their ‘Christmas treat’, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

The text is great. Dickens’s novella, popularised (in my generation at least) by the Muppets, is that classic cautionary tale against being stingy and selfish, and it is nice to hear ‘Bah Humbug’ in a voice other than Michael Caine. For those who grew up without Dickens (or the Muppets), A Christmas Carol sees the miser, Ebenezer Scrooge visited by three ghosts who show him the wider consequences of his ways and scare him into being a nice guy. Dickens pens his story beautifully, and paints a picture of a society that, despite all its ills, can be a better place with a bit of kindness.

Circa’s production attempts to ‘enhance’ the experience of a public reading using modern theatrical effects. Henwood wears costume to indicate Scrooge, there are set pieces evoking a Victorian setting, and lights and ghosts are projected as static images. Unfortunately these gestures towards theatricality muddy the text and subvert the power of a public reading. Let the words speak for themselves.

I came away from Circa feeling like I’d been told a story by my grandfather around the fire on Christmas eve. Sometimes charming, sometimes boring, but always told with affection, A Christmas Carol reaffirms the traditional meaning of Christmas.

*   *   *

Directed by Stella Reid
Studio 77 | December 17-21

The end of the world is a concept usually viewed with derision. Typically the subject of conspiracists, religious fanatics, and stand-up comics, an end of days is something so unlikely that it takes a leap of faith to take it seriously. In Eschaton, Stella Reid and her collaborators explore what it would really mean if the world we live in today was the final stage of human evolution, if we were at the climax of history.

Eschaton begins as an interactive promenade piece as audience and actors mingle in Studio 77’s amphitheatre enjoying a ‘last supper’ of chips and salad. Actors then ‘eulogise’ the audience and invite us inside the theatre. The traverse stage, resembling a cavernous tent, is beautifully lit and projections are incorporated throughout.

A large chunk of the show concerns how individuals world respond to the end of days. A man travels across the world to reunite with his lover. A mother tries to explain to her young daughter what it means when the universe doesn’t exist. A group of friends party while ignoring the event completely.

We are also introduced to some extremely intriguing magical threads; the reoccurring Angel of Death plays his trumpet, appearing as an omen. A psychic drag queen delivers the productions best writing, a series of speeches illustrating the ironies of human endeavours from the painting of Guernica and its subsequent covering at the UN to the tragic deaths during the Black Friday shopping sales.

The play is set at the climax of civilisation, but rather than build to an inevitable, dramatically sound conclusion, Eschaton descends into chaos. Threads begin to intertwine, more and more supernatural omens appear, and the cast slowly loose the pretence of character. An immensely satisfying ending sequence sees the performers exhaust themselves with dance, furiously and desperately ignoring their impending deaths.

One of the real joys of Escaton is its collaborative spirit. Too often we see set pieces, stage hands and music serving only to facilitate the actors acting, but Reid weaves every element of theatre together to create a piece of cohesive, compelling theatre.

Filed under: ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

by

Samuel Phillips is the Wellington theatre editor for The Lumière Reader. When he isn’t reviewing theatre he can be found making theatre with Wellington-based company, Bright Orange Walls, or studying at Victoria University of Wellington.