A VERY MERRY SCRIPTLESS: The Gary Starlight Christmas Special

The Atrium of the Christchurch Netball Centre. Entrance off Hagley Avenue., Christchurch

05/12/2013 - 21/12/2013

Production Details

Celebrate the end of the year with Gary Starlight: Christchurch’s answer to Michael Bublé.

Join Gary under the mistletoe this holiday season for an evening of hits…. and misses.

Thursday 5 December to Saturday 21 December
Thurs, Fri, Sat 8.00pm
Venue: The Atrium of the Christchurch Netball Centre. Entrance off Hagley Avenue.
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Bookings via 03 963 0870 or www.courttheatre.org.nz

Gary Starlight:  Jeff Clark
Musician:  Robbie Ellis 

Director:  Gregory Cooper
Stage Manager/Properties:  Tim Bain
Set Design:  Richard van den Berg
Technical Manager:  Giles Tanner
Wardrobe Manager:  Sarah Douglas
Production Manager:  Mandy Perry
Court Jester’s Manager:  Kirsty Gillespie

Improv ,

Over-the-top musical stylings

Review by Erin Harrington 13th Dec 2013

This year’s A Very Merry Scriptless is a bit different from previous years: rather than an improvised show by a small company in a proper theatre, we are treated to story of the rise and fall and rise again of singer-slash-performer-slash-entertainer Gary Starlight (veteran Court Jester Jeff Clark).

Starlight is a glittery, grinning and unapologetically egotistical combination of Cliff Richard and the guy who calls bingo at the local workingmen’s club.

By the time I arrive for the show, 50 of the audience have already had a three course meal and a good amount to drink so the mood is certainly merry. We are here to watch Gary’s Christmas special – a series of modified Christmas songs that all, somehow, end up being about Gary – and he starts off the proceedings with a game of pass-the-parcel (or, pass “Gary’s package”).

Each time the present stops it is with an audience member who is – quite coincidentally, of course – a person of significance to Gary. These include his first manager, his rehab doctor, his estranged father and his first love, and each person provides the ask-fors for an improvised scene or song. 

Three of these scenes work really well for me: in one, three audience members are the reunited members of pop group The Gary Starlight Express, and they act as back up dancers for a Backstreet Boys-inspired 90s pop hit about ice cream. In another, an audience member acts as a prompt throughout the climactic scene of Gary’s big Hollywood blockbuster: a black comedy in which he is an Israeli serial killer dentist. And in the third, Gary channels prog rockers Rush in an electro number about the one thing that makes life worth living: in this case, alcohol.

While each of the night’s improv numbers work, these three scenes deftly combine music and the material provided by the audience in particularly creative and novel ways.

The pass-the-parcel format gets a little repetitive in the middle but is loose enough to accommodate a room full of loud, slightly tipsy people. It has a great payoff, and the big number at the end is a treat. There is also a clear narrative arc, which ties together the individual numbers with purpose.

Jeff Clark’s Starlight persona is inspired, and he accepts and incorporates the sometimes dubious ask-fors with absolute commitment. He is also firm yet gentle with the audience and his volunteers, who are occasionally quite rowdy.

Robbie Ellis provides musical accompaniment, back-up vocals and occasional high fives. His extemporisations are always apt and sometimes extremely clever and subtle, and everything feels very polished. There is a clear relationship between Ellis and Gary Starlight, but I would have liked to have seen this developed and mined a little further.

Richard van den Berg’s set is necessarily simple, given the venue (a function room at the Christchurch Netball Centre), and features four large images: kitschy, shameless glamour shots of Gary – grinning for the camera, wandering on the beach, perched at a piano, artfully posing as tortured genius – taken by photographer Emma Brittenden. These screens also form an intrinsic and hilarious part of the show’s final number and are augmented by Giles Tanner’s lighting, which is bold and wonderfully over the top. Reproductions of Brittenden’s photos act as spot prizes throughout the night – because who wouldn’t want a picture of Gary?

The Gary Starlight Christmas Special is a great format that straddles the line between Christmas entertainment and corporate function. While I had a great time, I can see that the way to experience the show would most definitely be to have booked for a meal with a group. I hope to see Gary’s over-the-top musical stylings in other incarnations in the future.


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