Tag Archives: christmas

This Is Not A Christmas Play – Top Secret Comedy Club

There is a famous John Mortimer quote that “farce is a tragedy played at 1000 revolutions per minute.”  If that is true, then This Is Not A Christmas Play is a tragedy that ambles along at its own leisurely pace.  The ideas for a farce are there, but they rarely gather the necessary momentum.  The script meanders through too many different styles of comedy for any of them to be properly funny.  At best, it raises a couple of mild titters.  At worst it is bewilderingly awful.

The strained friendship between sponging layabout extraordinaire Tim (Jordan Kouame) and beta-male David (Matthew Leigh) is very well observed.  We’ve all had that friend who has taken advantage of our good nature, but we can’t quite get rid of.  Even if they have pushed you to the brink, it’s just not the done thing to sling someone out on the street on Christmas Day.  Unless they’ve done something really terrible – sadly for David, Tim not paying rent and spending his days making up an incomprehensible boardgame (rather than looking for a job) isn’t awful enough to warrant evicting him.  There is some subtle tragi-comedy at play and some brilliant sight gags as Tim tries to squirrel away items of David’s shopping.

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But then we lurch into an inexplicable (and failed) attempt at farce as the hapless pair fall victim to a couple of bungling scam artists – the chameleon-esque Clive (James Unsworth) and the seductive Mary (Alice Coles).  We’re never quite sure whose side we’re meant to be on.  Tim and David aren’t loveable enough for us to feel sorry for them, and Clive and Mary are a bit too superficial and inept for us to hope they’ll get away with it.  A hostage situation throws up an opportunity for some really dark humour or menace – instead, I found myself asking why David doesn’t just call the police (it’s not as if he has anything to hide from them).  There is a real Shaun of the Dead moment as the resourceful Mary holds them to ransom with a potato-peeler.

Aside from the fact that this is such a swerve away from the low-key opening, most of the jokes lack a lot of set-up and follow through.  Well executed farce is all in the anticipation and it takes time to construct the required tension.  It should wind itself up like a watch spring, then unravel in a satisfying jumble of mistaken identities, close shaves, lies, counter-lies and people having to hide in cupboards.  Instead, the gags in this play untangle themselves far too quickly and easily to elicit much (if any) laughter.  You need to build a precarious house of cards before you let it fall, not lean two cards against each other and flick them over.  The script would’ve benefited from using fewer plot devices and milking the best ones for all they’re worth.  It either needs to be totally plausible or totally ludicrous.  This falls through the gap between.

Comi-tragedy?  Tragi-farce?  It’s occasionally funny, but there’s no real sense of cohesion to the style or the plot.  Most of the time it just sags.  Perhaps the ideas contained would’ve worked better as two (or three?) separate plays.  Of the hour, I spent 45 minutes willing it to end.  More miss than hit.

This Is Not A Christmas Play is on until Sunday 4th January 2015 at the Top Secret Comedy Club, 170a Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5PD.  For tickets and more information go to http://www.encompassproductions.co.uk/this-is-not-a-christmas-play/4587188236

The Good Neighbour – Battersea Arts Centre

On the weekend, I found myself back at the Battersea Arts Centre, surrounded by various adults and some very excitable children.  In December 2012, the BAC played host to The Good Neighbour and it was so successful that people begged them to put it on again in 2013.  So I went along to see what all the fuss was about.  George Neighbour is a young man who lives in BAC and has lost his memory (and is terrified of Christmas and all things Christmassy – and heights, and stairs, and windows…. and just about everything).  Aside from the name on his apron and meeting Queen Victoria, he knows nothing about himself; but he believes the clues to his identity all lie hidden in BAC, so it’s up to us to be ‘very brave’ and find them for him.

We are split into groups with a numbered sticker and assigned a guide to lead us through the building, with all groups taking a different route (although you run into each other quite frequently) and off we go on our theatrical adventure.  The whole format is rather more aimed at children than it is at adults, but is still good fun.  The kids around me threw themselves into the task with great enthusiasm and were absolutely enraptured with the whole concept.

We trailed up and down stairs and crawled through tunnels, searched for bits of paper with instructions and met various characters along the way, each with a small snippet of information which might help us recover George’s lost memory.  At one point, we even got to make lightbulbs in the basement (a line of D batteries, alligator clips, lead filaments and a glass jar) – an experiment that I haven’t done since secondary school!  In the main council chamber, there was a large map on the floor which kids and adults alike were encouraged to draw on with chalk with all the things they’d found out.

But there were also aspects which encouraged us to think about our own memories. One of my favourite rooms that we visited was home to character The Momentologist – he is surrounded by glass jars full of water, all representing the moments in people’s lives; there’s a great analogy here for adults and children alike in that everyone has a jar, but it’s up to you to fill it memories and it’s never too late to start.  He held up an empty jar to say one of the most profound things out of the whole show: “This lady’s jar is empty.  She won’t go outside in case something falls out of the sky and hits her on the head… and she won’t let herself fall in love in case her heart gets broken.” As we all walked out of the room, there was a great contrast between the uncontainable enthusiasm of the children and some very quietly reflective adults.

At the finale we all got to share our findings (my highlight of the evening was the child vividly telling us about “the… the funny lady! And she EXPLODED!!!”). Maybe its that I’ve been spoilt with other immersive theatre productions where you can wander wherever you like, but not everyone sees every room on their route (and if you come back, I’m not sure how you can guarantee being put on a route to see the rooms you missed last time). I for one would’ve liked to see the funny exploding lady.

George’s missing identity is revealed and it is with bittersweet amazement that we find out the truth about him.  There is a sad ending to the story, but it is told in such a way as to be life-affirming rather than upsetting – one hell of a challenge when some of the youngest in the audience were 6-year-olds.  And what a good, brave and kind Neighbour he was.

‘The Good Neighbour’ is on until Saturday 4th January 2014 at Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London, SW11 5TN.  Suitable for ages 6 and up. For information and tickets, go to https://www.bac.org.uk/content/29759/see_whats_on/current_shows/tuck_in/the_good_neighbour

Once Upon a Christmas – Covent Garden (Look Left Look Right)

Would you like to see a pantomime that’s a little bit different?  Oh yes you would!  Having caught the immersive theatre bug again recently, I was intrigued how a well known format such as panto could possibly work in promenade.  Especially given that this requires you to go either by yourself or in a pair.  So off I went to Covent Garden for a bit of interactive festive fun, courtesy of Look Left Look Right theatre company.  This performance is full of surprises, so I don’t want to spoil too many!

Stepping into a small doorway in a road just off the main Piazza, I was led into a small waiting room and asked to drink some ‘Elfa-seltzer’ (in order to be able to see the elves) and shown into an office where Martin the admin elf was having an expletive-ridden meltdown.  Rumours were spreading fast that Cinderella and Prince Charming had split up, thus meaning that Pantoland’s big royal wedding was off.  This meant a total collapse of the global Christmas eco-system.  No wedding – no Christmas.  With crisis looming, it was left to me to track down Cinders and Charming, get the wedding back on track and save Christmas for all 7 billion people on the planet.   No pressure then.

Having donned my special Christmassy red hi-vis jacket, I was sent on a wild goose chase around Covent Garden market, being met by a series of familiar fairytale characters, in shops and by pillars, constantly being led around by the arm or given bits of paper with instructions with where to go and what to do next.  This is the epitome of audience participation and requires a spirit of silliness and total abandonment of your inhibitions, especially as you will probably be given a makeover and then find yourself walking through a busy market with a man dressed as a mouse in regency attire.  A few boozy tipples are on offer along the route, which might help take the edge off how ridiculous you think you look.  If you are naturally self-conscious and/or easily embarrassed, then this is perhaps not for you.  If you revel in mischief, it’s a must-see.

Having met a string of colourful characters, collected various objects and been ceremoniously paraded through the street on a sparkly gold pumpkin rickshaw ridden by another regency mouse (who took great pleasure in bellowing “she’s going to save Christmas!!!” at passers by) it was off to the final location to see if I could save the wedding in the nick of time and save Christmas for humankind.  For the record, yes I did and you should all be very grateful to me.  There was a saccharine panto finale song with lyrics tailored to specific things on my journey and a complimentary glass of champagne to toast my success.

This is great fun, but it absolutely hinges on you being happy to go along with it and engage with every character.  They will improvise their scene with you (and the other person you’re with), they will talk to you and expect you to talk to them.  Be prepared to throw yourself into it wholeheartedly and you will have a delightfully daft evening. Oh no you won’t?   Oh yes you definitely will…

Once Upon a Christmas is on until 15th December.  This promenade (walking) performance takes place outside around Covent Garden Market.  Wear comfortable shoes and wrap up warm! Take an umbrella if needs be.  You must be 18 years or older.  Contains some strong language.  For tickets and information, go to http://lookleftlookright.com/site/?page_id=848