Australian playwright Mary Rachel Brown’s riotous new Christmas comedy follows the Lickfold family as they prepare their house to compete in the Australian Regional Christmas Excellence (ARCE) awards.
The Lickfolds (geddit? Lick-fold?) have previously been entering the ARCE (say that sentence out loud — geddit?) for 12 years, but they face a few major hurdles to the win this year.
Firstly, the family’s new neighbours have prepared a spectacular, if unorthodox, display, while Anne Lickfold (Amanda Bishop) is still waiting on her delivery of a Jesus statue and other key elements. She’s also at serious risk of overloading the power grid with her obnoxiously lavish lighting display. At the same time, her xenophobic husband Bill (Richard Sydenham) is more concerned with preparing his bunker for a very particular kind of doomsday, while her beloved but troubled man-child son Rodney (Aaron Glenane) shows little respect for his mother’s efforts.
Rodney, who is half Marilyn Manson and half generic late 2000s emo teenager, is insistent that “the truth” must come out and that “he” is coming.
Brown’s play is, in every way, an adult Christmas confection: full of brightness and naughtiness with occasionally searing satire at its core. It could be developed a little further to land its punches with more force, but part of its charm is its scrappiness; it has the flavour of a thrown-together Christmas panto, designed to give you a necessary end-of-year laugh. It even comes with up-to-the-minute references and some great ribbing of a certain Sydney suburb (but not one of the ones you’d likely expect).
Directed by Glynn Nicholas, this production embraces the spirit of the silly season, helped along by a meticulously detailed set designed by Hugh O’Connor, covered in every cheap plastic Christmas decoration you could possibly imagine.
Bishop is very much the star atop this finely decorate Christmas tree. Her ultra-competitive, middle class, white-bread mum is everything you’d hope for: cartoony, but drawn from a place of truth. Anne’s twisted relationship with Rodney — she’s as scared for him as she is of him — is one of the play’s best elements.
Glenane is a perfect pairing for Bishop, finding all that’s ridiculous in the sullen, absurdly coddled, and ferociously narcissistic Rodney. On the other hand, Sydenham doesn’t really have the right comic sensibility for the play, and needs to heighten his performance a few times over to meet the writing.
Michael Denkha, who shows up as a mysterious guest at the end of the first act, has a good sense of the play’s style and tone. But he doesn’t quite have a grasp on his rather unusual character, who should be both strangely seductive and just plain repulsive.
This isn’t a play that will change lives, and it’s unlikely to be revived in decades from now. But it’s a great piece of light entertainment for right now, and a source of a few decent and much-needed giggles.