Court Theatre Pub Charity Studio, Christchurch

04/12/2014 - 20/12/2014

Production Details

100 years on from World War One and some battles still remain the same. Christmas is coming and the troops want a laugh to forget the trials and tribulations of the year. Travel back in time with the Court Jesters, Christchurch’s hilarious improvised comedy company, as they recreate a front line World War One Christmas show.

Things would be a lot easier for these plucky improvisers if they had the resources and the manpower to put on the show they wanted to, but rationing and actors MIA mean that the only thing left to do is don some silly hats and use plenty of audience participation. This Christmas join the Court Jesters as they go Over The Top. 

Improvised Comedy
At The Court Theatre
4 – 20 December 2014
Starting Times: Thu – Sat 8.00pm.
Tickets: Enlisted Troops – show ticket only $20.00, Officers Club – show ticket & in-show ration pack (supper) $30.00. All seating is non-assigned table seating.
Booking Details: 963 0870 or visit www.courttheatre.org.nz

CAST: Ben Allan, Rhiannon McCall, Matt Powell, Andrew Todd. Musician: Hamish Oliver.

CREW: Dan Bain – Director, Giles Tanner - Lighting Design/Stage Manager/Operator, Costume Manager – Sarah Douglas, Workshop Manager – Nigel Kerr, Production Manager – Mandy Perry.

Comedic troops go over the top

Review by Erin Harrington 06th Dec 2014

It might be wartime, but by golly it’s still Christmas. This homage to World War One front line shows offers us, the assembled troops, some good keen British seasonal entertainment from the Ancillary Reserves Service Entertainment (ARSE) Brigade, as directed by Dan Bain: the earnest Lance Corporal Boyle (Matt Powell), the gormless Private Booth (Andrew Todd) and the derring-do colonial Captain Crunch (Rhiannon McCall), who doesn’t let the fact that she’s a woman get in the way of being an ace fighter pilot. Leading them is the gruff Major Tom Rivers (Ben Allan), who won’t let something silly like a war get in the way of making it to the final dance number on time. 

However, their star comedian, Private Dancer, has gone AWOL, and somehow they must keep things cracking along until he shows up. The show’s central dilemma – the attempt to stage their Christmas show, while also dealing with such curve balls as artillery strikes, rationing, an impending invasion and a potential spy in the ranks – acts as a framework for a series of one off games, including improvised poetry and jokes, an endowment, a pop up storybook, and a mashed up Shakespeare.

Once things hit their stride the action cracks along. The scripted elements incorporate a lot of stiff upper lip, extensive silly puns and a good dose of silliness, and while some of the transitions are a little far-fetched it’s all in the (Christmas) spirit of things.

The offers of the audience are swiftly and generously incorporated by the cast, and other elements of more direct audience participation are worked into the action with minimum fuss. This works well for two reasons: firstly, the seating arrangement, which has us set up along long tables as soldiers in a mess hall, means that there is little divide between players and audience, and this is a relationship that is established and maintained well. Secondly, Ben Allan’s outstanding and quick witted work as the commanding officer and ad hoc MC keeps everything moving forward with intent.

Musical accompaniment is supplied by Hamish Oliver on the piano. His wonderfully understated presence means that some beautifully subtle musical moments, such as the incorporation of Elizabethan-tinged Peanuts theme music in a Shakespearean scene about Snoopy, are received with double takes. The other technical elements – the military uniforms (Sarah Douglas), the suitably spartan Jerry-rigged stage (Nigel Kerr), and the subtle lighting (Giles Tanner) – all work together to create a very strong and coherent aesthetic package.

On one hand, I really appreciate going to a Christmas show that has taken some risks in terms of content, and that doesn’t feel the need to wrap everything in tinsel and flashing lights. Conceptually this is a really strong offering.

That said, the show is quite peculiar tonally. It seems torn between offering an affectionate pastiche of British light entertainment and paying tribute to comedic engagements with trauma (such as Blackadder Goes Forth and MASH), while also acknowledging the horrors of war and this year’s contemplation of the centenary of the start of World War I.

(It doesn’t help that the show’s key moment of pathos is undermined by sound pollution from the foyer, where loud chimes are signalling the end of the interval of the main stage show.) This is exacerbated by some moments of confusion; I never get a good sense of Captain Crunch’s character, and it’s not always clear whether it’s only the audience who are in on the joke that, contrary to Major Tom’s opinion, she’s quite obviously a woman in trousers. 

My companion and I both really enjoy it though, even if we’re not totally on board with the way that the ending abruptly plays out, and I’d certainly recommend it. The audience is enthusiastic and clearly has a good time, and you can’t go wrong with extensive jokes that hinge on the word ‘privates’.


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