Review: Christmas Farce
Image: West Avenue
Katherine Edrupt - Georgie
Timothy George - Jonathan
Natalie Lester - Alice
Jamie-Rose Monk - Stacey
Alan Bradley - Samuel
Samuel Buttery - Danny
Marc Gee-Finch - Makenzie
Emma Tansley - Beatrice
Anita Dobson - Voice of stage manager
Backstage at a regional theatre, it's the opening night of a revamped Nativity and the atmosphere among the hapless cast and crew is far from festive.
But as the curtain rises and the show spirals quickly out of control, they're going to have to think fast to stop it becoming a complete turkey.
Written by BAFTA Rocliffe Comedy winner Shaun Kitchener (Hollyoaks, Positive, 5 6 7 8: A Steps Musical) and produced by the company behind Briefs, Christmas Farce is a hilarious alternative to panto; packed with laughs from beginning to end.
Alongside the numerous pantos that pervade the theatre scene in near plague proportions at this time of year, other similar offerings crop up too - and here's one of them.
As the title suggests, Christmas Farce is not a traditional panto, even if the farcical elements it contains lend a similar feel to proceedings.
The show provokes a strong sense of déjà vu since it centres on the efforts of a cast of actors playing at a regional theatre.
A play with actors playing actors is not really very new or different - think of The Play That Goes Wrong (currently in the West End), for example.
And watching actors being actors occasionally feels as though one is intruding on an incestuous kind of in-joke that actors obviously readily appreciate and enjoy, but leaves the audience feeling a tad marginalised.
The plot revolves around actors playing in a nativity - one which seems to have been freely updated to include garish modern dress, gender reassignment and novel staging - a sign carried by one of the actors declares "No room at the Premiere Inn".
Some of them don't seem to have met during the brief rehearsals to prepare for the nativity, presumably because the cheapskate producers wouldn't cover the costs of them all being together at the same time.
Moreover, it's press night with the all-important reviews likely to determine the success, or otherwise, of the production.
What we actually see is not the performance of the nativity, but events taking place in the theatre's green room, the place where the actors wait to go on stage.
Things start to go wrong even as the actors assemble before curtain-up.
One of their number has succumbed to a stomach bug, providing the opportunity for a petrified understudy to perform which provides some visual humour later on when her nerves have undesirable effects on her own stomach.
Shaun Kitchener's script is well-plotted, combining plenty of actorly bitchiness whilst maintaining plausibility in the flow of the nativity play and providing well-defined and distinctive characters.
Moreover, Mr Kitchener is more than ably served by a highly competent and talented cast, neatly orchestrated by director Stephen Davies.
The problem, though, with Christmas Farce is that it feels self-consciously restrained, not daring to throw care to the winds and be farcical enough to deliver the really big laughs that this kind of show cries out for.
Though I found myself tittering occasionally, there was never any danger of falling victim to fits of hysterical laughter or anything approaching that heady state.
The rest of the audience did seem to find more mirth than I did in the endeavour - especially in the later stages - but even their reaction seemed muted.
In the end, it felt rather like many TV sitcoms - more than able acting and direction, but just not enough comedic juice in the script to provide the sort of rib-tickling humour that the season really demands.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Waterloo East Theatre
Our show listing for Christmas Farce
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