MARY’S CHRISTMAS in Wellington

Newtown Community Centre, Wellington

16/12/2014 - 17/12/2014

Production Details

Christmas comedy show tells Mary’s story 

Mary and her devoted husband, Joseph, were audience favourites in the Discharge comedy collective’s award-winning show “What is this, Woman’s Hour?” The couple return to the stage in a new show called “Mary’s Christmas”, on at the Newtown Community Centre in Wellington on 16 and 17 December.

In this classic road trip story, Joseph and the heavily pregnant Mary travel to Bethlehem for the census. On the way, Mary prepares herself for the toils of mothering a famous child, three wise men struggle to buy baby-appropriate gifts and Joseph learns the truth about childbirth.

Mary’s story is interspersed with a series of sketches exploring different aspects of Christmas, including family dynamics, seasonal loneliness and a very unconventional Christmas pantomime.

Discharge has members in both Dunedin and Wellington. The main storyline was written by sisters Rosie Howells in Dunedin and Abby Howells in Wellington, with others contributing sketches.

The show will be performed in Dunedin with a different director, cast and crew on 11 and 12 December, with all profits from both shows going to Women’s Refuge.

“We wanted to do a show that was funny, uplifting and a little bit silly for the end of the year, and support a great cause at the same time,” Director Caitlin McNaughton says. “It’s also been really cool getting to collaborate with the Dunedin members, using technology like Skype and Google Drive.”

Abby, who plays the role of Mary (as she did in “What is this, Woman’s Hour?”) in the Wellington show, describes the Mary and Joseph story as a celebration of Mary. “It’s a funny, warm show for Christmas. All of the characters are quirky and likable in their own way – even Herod is more than just a one-dimensional villain.”

Kate Schrader, who plays Joseph, says they chose Newtown Community Centre as the venue because of its community vibe. “We love Newtown. I live there and Caitlin works around the corner at the Newtown Library. Celebrating community is a big part of Christmas for us, so the Community centre felt like the perfect place for this show,” Kate says.

“We also want the show to have the feel of an end-of-year school production and the Newtown space reminds us of a school hall”, Caitlin adds.

The Wellington cast is Abby Howells, Caitlin McNaughton, Kate Schrader, Catriona Tipene and Jennifer O’Sullivan.

Discharge’s What is this, Woman’s Hour? won Best Comedy 2013 Dunedin Fringe Festival and was nominated Best Comedy in the 2014 NZ Fringe Festival.

Its most recent show, Benedict Cumberbatch Must Die, written and performed byAbby Howells, Caitlin McNaughton and Kate Schrader, enjoyed a sellout season at BATS Theatre in June 2014. The actors say they are planning to reserve a seat for their favourite actor. “We know he’s a great supporter of charities, so just in case …”

What the reviews said:

“Lively and unpretentious … ” (“What is this, Woman’s Hour?”, Theatreview)

“An hour of hugely carried short and sharp laugh-so-hard-you’ll-piss-your-pants type sketches … ” (“What is this, Woman’s Hour?”, Theatreview)

“Laugh-out-loud…highly entertaining character-based comedy … ” (“Benedict Cumberbatch Must Die”, Theatreview)

“The audience roared its approval throughout … “” (“Benedict Cumberbatch Must Die”, The Dominion Post) 

Venue: Newtown Community Centre
Dates & Time: 16 – 17 December, 8pm
Booking Details: Tickets $20/$15. Book at

Writers: Abby Howells, Caitlin McNaughton, Kate Schrader, Christine Brooks, Jennifer O’Sullivan, Rosie Howells, Nell Guy, Bronwyn Wallace, Marea Colombo and Heidi Geissler.

Abby Howells - Mary, Announcing Angel, Various
Kate Schrader - Joseph, King Herod, Various
Catriona Tipene - Inkeeper, Wise Man 3, Shepherd, Various
Jennifer O’Sullivan - Wise Man 1, Shepherd 1, Various
Caitlin McNaughton - Wise Man 2, Shepherd 2, Various
Lighting/Sound Operator - Alex Wilson
Stage Manager - Mel Andrew
Costume Designer - Helen McKenzie
Costume Assistant - Abby Howells
Publicist - Kate Schrader
Producer - Caitlin McNaughton

Quietly insightful humour

Review by John Smythe 17th Dec 2014

For some reason I had assumed the Mary of the title would be a contemporary woman but it’s the biblical Mary, mother of Jesus, whose reimagined story is played out – amid a number of other scenarios – in Mary’s Christmas. The witty messing about with wacky anachronisms and character quirks presupposes there are still enough people in their audiences who know the traditional story. 

Also prosaically retold is the Shepherds’ encounter with the Angel Gabrielle. Murderous King Herod turns out to be a sad and lonely figure and – in contrast to the blithe ignorance of her well-meaning Joseph – it is the Three Kings who finally achieve true wisdom through understanding what Mary has been through to bring The Redeemer into the world.

A series of scenes depicts the evolution of the St Augustine Christmas Pantomime based on something more modern than an old fairy-tale; banal male ‘humour’ is lampooned through exchanges between two bored Snowmen; ‘anal tones’ intrude on a trio’s progressive attempts to rehearse Christmas Carols …

One-off sketches touch on the Queen’s speech, the unique perspective of Christmas Tree decorations, Christian ignorance of the Jewish faith; the perspectives of girl children around the identity of Santa, the value of presents and taking charge of the barbeque; the cultural imperialism of Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, meeting the prospective in-laws, a woman wanting to be Santa, a poignant meeting between a teacher and her ex-pupil at Cobb & Co …

In eighty feel-good minutes a lot of ground gets covered, usually with a light touch. Personally I’d like more punch in some of the sketches but that may just be a boy thing. On the other hand Mrs Claus does take radical action in a scene that could have more build-up to it.  

What makes it work is the way all the actors – Abby Howells, Kate Schrader, Catriona Tipene, Jennifer O’Sullivan and Caitlin McNaughton (who also directs) – inhabit the characters, honour the ideas and deliver the sketches with excellent timing.

The same show has already had a season in Dunedin with a different cast and crew, and this Wellington one is only on once more – tonight! As the lead writers, sisters Abbey (in Wellington) and Rosie Howells (in Dunedin) share their scripting credits with both ensembles.

By comparison with some of the wickedly funny end-of-years shows we’ve seen at BATS over past years, Mary’s Christmas is more gentle and quietly insightful. The feel-good factor prevails.


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