CLEVER CONTEMPORARY MERRY ROMP COULD USE A MEGA-EDIT
Written by Barnaby Fredrick and Nic Sampson
at The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
From 12 Dec 2012 to 22 Dec 2012
Reviewed by Kate Ward-Smythe, 13 Dec 2012
To The Basement Theatre team or person who secured Kim Dotcom to play the role of Santa – the man on the cover of last month's WIRED magazine; the man Kiwis have elevated from obscurity to folklore in an 11 month whirlwind of drama; the man who outsmarted the FBI and Hollywood; the man who put inflatable tanks on his front yard to steel himself for the fight; the man who exposed John Banks as a liar (in my opinion), and made John Key's government, the NZ Police and the GCSB look like incompetent blundering followers of American law enforcers, with no regard for our own democratic jurisdiction – I salute and celebrate your mega-casting-coup.
MEGACHRISTMAS is theatrical hilarious freedom of expression at its all time best. The same week that online articles and petitions are circulating about increased global governmental momentum to censor the internet, Kim Dotcom – who put a big fat dent in the credibility of the American and New Zealand Governments, plus everyone linked and implicated along the way – relishes his theatrical debut as the man in red.
Like Dotcom himself, the move is not bothered by rules, convention or controversy, and shows genius, courage, humour and bold risk.
It has paid off. When Dotcom finally makes his Basement Theatre entrance, both his performances (digital and live) are mega-impressive, totally enjoyable, very tuneful and worth the long hot wait. Dotcom has effortless presence and mana, as he wanders through the audience, with genuine Christmas cheer and promise. He even has a special shout-out to his lawyer buddy Paul Davison, QC.
Dotcom's cameo role will bring folks to this tenacious theatre company's comedy who haven't been to a play in years. The opening night audience is dotted with new faces, not just the usual opening night crowd. The first person I meet in the box office queue hadn't step foot in a theatre since an amateur version of Mary Poppins in Invercargill, c.1983. It later emerges at the newcomer, admittedly in a very merry post-show state, loved every minute of the night.
Nothing like a legend to get mega-bums-on-seats to a holly jolly fund-raiser, as we head into Yuletide. (Basement Theatre needs soundproofing and a new foyer). Dotcom's cameo is a powerful opportunity for The Basement theatre – a chance to build a new and bigger audience.
So Dotcom's debut is a triumph. What a shame the rest of the play is too loose and too long.
Yes, the script – by Nic Sampson and Barnaby Fredric – is dotted with clever no-holds-barred-mixed-Noel-metaphors galore. Jesus, Santa, Bjork, Wally, Rudolph, a robot-rover-thingy, Mrs Claus, a polar bear with a linguistic twist, a raconteur called Mr. Exposition, and a hot young thing called Chantelle… all play a part in this cobbled-together narrative about finding Santa, who has gone awol on the eve of the eve of Christmas.
Mick Innes, playing a rambling stoner elf, sassy Kimberley Crossman as a perky elf, and energetic watchable Nic Sampson as a drug-addicted Rudolph with issues, appear every night. The rest of the cast rotates during the 10-night season. These three shoulder the bulk of the plot and drive the narrative. At times their scenes feel under-prepared, disjointed, pedestrian and hard to hear. (Don't sit up the back if you can help it)
Brave director Simon Coleman no doubt received a final draft script, with the ink still warm on the page, and then faced a short rehearsal time frame, along with end-of-year availability and resourcing issues. He's done the job, but because a show like this is always going to attract a festive social audience out for an entertaining time – and, let's face it, the arrival of Dotcom – he still needs to slash scenes down to the necessities and tighten up the edges, to make the sum of all these bits and pieces, the best it can becpme, in preparation for the big guy's entrance. For example, Michelle Blundell's Bjork is fantastic, as is her commentary of St Nicholas vs the Coca-Cola Santa, but overall the scene goes on too long.
Other moments on opening night are an entertaining mix of edgy fly-by-the-seat of-your-pants-partial-improv meeting solid theatrical craft, good casting and well pitched performances. (Jordan Selwyn's introspective Where's Wally, Shane Cortese's Tropic-Thunder-Robert-Downey-Jr-Kirk-Lazarus-inspired assault on all of us, as a horribly flippant Kony (Google KONY 2012 INVISIBLE CHILDREN for some perspective this Christmas), and Oliver Driver's organic narration as well as his father-daughter moment with Kim Crossman, plus Harry McNaughton's entrance as Jesus, are all crowd favourites.)
Content-wise, the script is clever and contemporary at times, with Mrs Claus' humorous digs at the flaws in Santa's current business model, well articulated by an unforgettable Yvette Parsons. Topical references are well splattered throughout the script – such as diving boots as a key clue to the missing Santa – and keep the laughs coming. At other times, the script goes for excessive superficial shock-value.
The trouble is, some members of the audience desensitise as it becomes one-note and predicable, rather than subversive, clever and unexpected. Anyway – what's the point? Thanks to the Internet, you're trying to shock the un-shockable generation. For example, I feel really sorry for Jason Kerrison's Mum at one point. But what do I know – the opening night audience seems to love it all.
Give this merry romp a mega-edit, let your mega-star have the final word (i.e. ditch the lame resolving sub-plot returning from outer-space in the final scene), and MEGACHRISTMAS will be the best night out this side of Jesus' birthday. (Or is it now Santa's birthday? It's hard to know these days).
As it is right now, MEGACHRISTMAS still worth going to for Kim Dotcom's cameo.
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See also reviews by:
Paul Simei-Barton (New Zealand Herald);
James Wenley (Theatre Scenes - Auckland Theatre Blog);