Theatre review: A Basement Christmas Carol
By Nic Sampson and Barnaby Fredric
Directed by Sophie Roberts
December 4, 2013
The traditional Basement Christmas show continues with a massive rotating cast of well-loved and lesser-known faces from Auckland’s acting and celebrity scene in a seasonally themed romp. The last few years have got progressively vulgar but this reworking of the Charles Dickens classic ditches the dodgy dildos and beastiality jokes and goes for clever, contemporary laughs by setting A Christmas Carol in modern day New Zealand. The scene is hilariously set by an adorable choir of downtrodden Dickensian school kids. “We are the children of Decile 1,” they lament in sweet harmony.
Don’t worry. The Basement show hasn’t lost its edge with plenty of absurdity and WTF moments not least because the cast are having such a good time. It’s loose and messy, lines are dropped and lighting cues missed but that’s all part of its charm. Two actors anchor the season with Gareth Williams playing a suitably rangy, pale Ebenezer Scrooge and Bree Peters his long-suffering saintly employee Bobbi Cratchitt throughout the run. Scrooge heads a miserable version of Chrisco, selling overpriced, poor quality Christmas hampers.
The story stays fairly faithful to the original with the appearance of ghosts past, current (affairs) – a sadly recently departed Metro’s Aucklander of the year John Campbell – and future, who all try to persuade the parsimonious old coot to see the error of his ways. Incongruously the ghost of Scrooge’s late colleague The Mad Butcher appears, played on opening night by a brilliant Byron Coll with pitch perfect mimicry, plus ghosts of various other famous people, some actually dead, some not. No matter. Logic isn’t this play’s strong point. Pure entertainment is. All sense is lost when the genetically modified corn ghost of Christmases yet to come arrives in what looks suspiciously like just a good excuse for a fantastic costume.
With the cast changing constantly it’s impossible to know whether you’ll strike Rose Matafeo or Michael Hurst bursting on stage. Whoever emerges from behind the impressively detailed set (designed by Simon Coleman) they’re bound to pump out a high-energy jovial performance. Chelsea McEwan-Miller had the audience’s hearts aching as disease-riddled yet hope-fuelled Tiny Tim from the wicked confines of her wheelchair.
For such a loose show, the musical numbers by Joseph Moore – who clearly knows how to write a tune – are surprisingly polished. Peters has an excellent voice and Williams belts out his parts with endearing showmanship giving this rollicking play an added enjoyable dimension and leaving me wanting more songs. A musical for Basement Christmas 2014 perhaps? This is one guilt-free, stress-free seasonal tradition well worth fitting into this busy time of year.