The Basement Theatre’s annual festive show is back. The Opening Night before Christmas is described as Waiting for Guffman meets Love Actually. But instead of being set in Blaine or London, this show is set in Levin’s Community Town Hall. The stage walls are plastered with Levin puns and the surrounding area titles, a personal favourite being Manawatu fast Manawatu Furious, hinting at what style of humour the crowd would be in for.
The first half introduces the four main characters who have only 24 hours to rehearse a show before opening night. Kurra Forrester plays the director of the show, who’s non-traditional play is causing friction between her and the hyperbolic stage manager played by Tom Sainsbury. They are joined on stage by two of Levin’s best acting talents, the town butcher played by Byron Coll and a 23-year-old aerosol addict played by.
The beginning of the show strains for laughs and meanders slightly especially when the jokes can feel aimed at friends and family of the cast rather than the wider public. However, following the set up of characters in the first half, it’s when we re-joined for the second that the action and fun really began. Kurra Forrester becomes the narrator of the show which gave her the licence to express herself hilariously providing entertaining commentary mixed with well controlled facial expressions. I particularly enjoyed Sainsbury’s stereotyped stage manager hilariously named Glen Innes, equipped with hazard log book and a thirst to act on stage, will be more than recognisable to those who have worked on community productions.
It is also in this half that the play provides its main point of difference, introducing a famous Kiwi face ( a different one each night) who is required to improvise their way through the show. Olivia Tennet (800 Words) guest starred on opening night,and seemingly knew just as much as the audience. With this new freedom all the actors seemed to let loose and became less exaggerated and far more relaxed in their characterisation. Tennet was fantastic and totally shone as she shared the ridiculousness of this unique situation with the audience while playing an elf, a criminal showman and even a tree. If we’d felt a little left out at the beginning now we all felt part of the action.
By the finale the whole audience was desperate for more and just like a good Christmas treat should it made us feel warm, fuzzy and a little tipsy.
Check out the full list of guest stars here and book to see the show on until 22 December.
Reviewed by Nick Macdonald