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A WHIMSICAL EXCUSE TO SING A FEW SONGS

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The Island Bay Loners Doomsday Christmas Sing Along
Written by Cherie Jacobson, Alex Lodge and Ed Watson
Directed by Uther Dean
Musical Direction by Kerina Deas
Produced by Cherie Jacobson, Adrianne Roberts and Emma White
full.stop.theatre

at BATS Theatre, Wellington
From 29 Nov 2012 to 15 Dec 2012

Reviewed by John Smythe, 30 Nov 2012


Impending apocalypse is the premise that brings a bunch of loner misfits together (or not) on the tiny island in Island Bay to share (or not) the best last Christmas Day ever.  

The Island Bay Loners Doomsday Christmas Sing Along is ‘writen', according to the programme & song book, by Alex Lodge, Cherie Jacobsen and Edward Watson. Directed by Uther Dean with musical director Kerina Deas, the opportunity it affords for a Christmas sing-along is welcome and fun. Other elements are under-developed.

Snappy lighting cues (Tania Ngata) introduce and sustain the opening gambit of the MC, But-But, who neither stammers nor is broad of beam but is a butler. He has a John Key puppet in his pocket, which makes but a brief appearance, and is played with a sly wit by Ed Watson.

But-But's employer, Dame Gloria Gibson – given to singing her given name gloriously at every opportunity – is played over-the-top and pretty well on the one note as a comment on the idea of an opera diva by Loren Martin. Given most divas run the full gamut of emotions from A to Z it's a shame her range is about O to P.

Gloria lives on the island and has invited thousands to the apocalypse party but only five turn up. To varying degrees they succeed more at finding a bit more emotional range and depth of characterisation.

Sam Hallanan is misanthropic magician Trevor, whose constant flourishing and dispersing of playing cards seems to be building up to something … but [spoiler alert?] no.

Two English loners are reunited. Paul Waggott's Bryan, on a cycle tour, seems to be a loner by choice while Carrie Retuhai Green's Paulette wants nothing more than to get back with him. Their story has the most structure and is therefore the most satisfying, not least because they are both very inventive in exploring their opportunities. (To see what else new Toi graduate Green has done, search ‘Carrie Green'.)

Twin wannabe pop stars Holly and Ivy are brought to high-energy life by Francesca Emms and Hannah Banks in a veritable farrago of squabbling sibling rivalry.

Perhaps the only character to honour the Doomsday premise throughout is pianist Ruby – played by Adrianne Roberts – who has apocalypse smeared all over her tragic lips.

Otherwise the excellent premise is mostly forgotten rather than exploited while the characters and their relationships are being established and then being played with, which is a major lapse in dramaturgy and directing.

The strange device of the MC/But-But narrating the story in the past tense (post-apocalypse?) also drains the show of its potential dramatic tension. So in the end it simply plays out as a whimsical excuse to sing a few of the Christmas songs, which maybe all the creators intended.

It's homesick Bryan who has the excuse to be ‘Dreaming Of a White Christmas' but unfortunately global warming is working the other way. Oh no, sorry. it's climate change, extreme weather, right, and hey, in this tiny island at the end of the world, that means anything can happen …

Like Doomsday itself, The Island Bay Loners Doomsday Christmas Sing Along is probably best experienced with a bit of festive lubrication on board (although not too much because the lack of a central aisle makes getting to the loo during this 90-minute show rather problematic). 
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