Review: An Awkward Family Christmas

We all have annoying and embarrassing relatives that do things at family gatherings which make us cringe.  After watching the crazy and rambunctious mayhem that unfolds in An Awkward Family Christmas, I will never again complain about having to endure my family reunions!

Meet the extended Potts-Chambers family: a brain damaged supermodel, over-competitive, inappropriately close Aryan twins, a lesbian life partner who makes obscene pottery and a perpetually unloved stoner son who the family keeps calling Britney.  And these are just some of the colorful characters!  Add in a festive meal of vegemite and broccoli with a bottle cap thrown in for good measure and you have yourself one very ridiculous and extremely awkward family shindig.

Drawing inspiration from the thousands of awkward family Christmas photographs available online, An Awkward Family Christmas is an utterly insane and over-the-top slapstick comedy which presents every single awkward social and familial situation you can think of, and then some.  The Outfit Theatre Company have yet again lived up to their reputation of being “New Zealand’s rowdiest theatre company” with another production that is cheeky, boisterous and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

This really is a character-centric story and the madcap dysfunctional family which we get acquainted to is portrayed superbly by a talented ensemble of performers.  Jacqui Nauman is incredibly endearing as the childlike and dazed Polly while Andrew Ford’s exaggerated and comical performance of Percy’s faux disability garnered plenty of laughs.

I thought Chris Tempest brought great comedic value to the role of Winston, the lonely neighbor who desperately wants to get past the door so as not to spend Christmas alone.  My favorites of the night though were Joel Herbert and Kate Vox who are perfectly cast as Keith and Keitha; the antics the two get up to individually and as a duo were so entertaining to watch.

With so much chaos and activity going on, it really was up to the actors to sell the story and they did so with great energy and charisma which is a credit to not only their acting prowess but also Ben Henson’s skilled direction.  The sense of camaraderie amongst the cast is evident on stage and I thought their comedic intuition was impeccable.  An unexpected heckler in the crowd ever so slightly threw them off at first but they quickly recovered and handled the ongoing extra “sound effects” like true professionals.

As the story progresses, things begin to unravel and become increasingly more ludicrous and outrageous.  The many interweaving storylines start to become a little far-fetched but yet still somewhat believable within the context of this group of nutty personalities.  Cutting out a storyline or two would have helped the narrative flow a little better as towards the end it did start to feel like there was a little too much going on.  Overall though the script, written by award-winning playwright Thomas Sainsbury, is well crafted; it doesn’t miss a beat and is highly entertaining.

The silly season is pretty much upon us and while this may not necessarily get you in to the festive spirit, it will certainly convince you that your family is quite normal!  Be prepared for a night of many cringe-worthy moments and laughs aplenty – leave your serious side at the door and go with your sense of humor in check.

The Whimsical Banana rates An Awkward Family Christmas: 4/5 bananas!

Ridiculously silly, loads of fun, and just utterly absurd!

An Awkward Family Christmas is playing at the Herald Theatre until 1st December.  For tickets, click here.

The Sex Show: A Cheeky Peek Under The Sheets

With a suggestive show title like that, The Outfit Theatre Company have left themselves nowhere to hide.  There really isn’t any ambiguity behind what the show is about and I was expecting nothing less than one hell of a raunchy show that was both confronting and entertaining.

Following a successful run during the 2011 Auckland Fringe, The Outfit, who have been touted as “one of Auckland’s slickest young companies” have redeveloped and reworked this award-winning, provocative show and are back with a return season.  Drawing on the personal experiences and sexual secrets from not only the cast and crew but over 114 brave participants of an anonymous online poll, The Sex Show follows an array of different colorful characters and couples on an erotic whirlwind of sexual encounters, struggles and fantasies.  Joel Herbert, the director, sums it up best: it is a “snapshot of New Zealand’s sexual psyche”.

With brief flashes of full-frontal nudity, plenty of simulated sex, weird fetishes and a few hand jobs thrown in for good measure, this show is definitely not for the conservative!  It tackles possibly the most taboo subject in society but thanks to the excellent direction, some fine writing by dramaturg Gary Henderson and polished performances by the cast, the show is actually not uncomfortable to watch with plenty of great one-liners, comedic moments and interesting insights about the sexual appetites of this country.

Featuring a massive ensemble cast of nineteen actors, there are a lot of characters to get acquainted to and I often found it hard to keep up with who’s who and the intersecting, episodic storylines.  The overall narrative arc is rather fast-paced so you don’t get much time to connect with any of the characters, which is a shame.  But each actor does get their time to shine and I thought they all performed brilliantly.  I especially enjoyed the mischievous antics of the Sex Panda and his two cheeky sidekicks, Fellatio Fox and Cunnilingus Cat – how can you not with names like that?

The set is minimalistic with just boxes that light up but they are seamlessly and strategically moved around with each scene change to create different spaces.  Coupled with the gorgeous chandeliers and appropriate mood lighting, the stage is visually scintillating which helps complement the actors’ performance and bring the story to life.

Unfortunately what dampened the experience for me was the sound issues which is largely due to the poor acoustics of the auditorium.  While the size of the stage and performance space is an ideal fit with the story, I do think the Concert Chamber is probably not the most appropriate venue for this production.  There is a lot of movement to and from the stage which is distracting at the best of times but unfortunately was made all the worse with the hardwood floors.  My attention kept getting diverted every time the female actors strutted up and down in their heels.

Furthermore unless you are sitting at the sidelines, the stage is a bit of a distance from the audience so in the scenes where music was present, some of the dialogue does get drowned out.  I also think the structure of the story should have catered for an interval; ironically it was more uncomfortable sitting down for almost two straight hours than it was watching couples getting it on!

These are of course things that can easily be rectified and I hope if future seasons are planned, that an alternative venue definitely be considered.  The production itself is absolutely top notch with great levels of authenticity and honesty to both the story and the performance.  Putting up something like this that pushes the boundaries is definitely an audacious move, and flaws aside, I do think they have done a remarkable job.  It takes a great deal of bravery to tackle such a controversial topic and even moreso for the actors to engage in such an intimate act on stage for all to see so I have the utmost respect for everyone involved.

The Sex Show is sexy, seductive and incredibly risqué but a whole lot of fun!  It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you have a great sense of humor and like your theatre on the naughty side, this is the show for you.

The Whimsical Banana rates The Sex Show: 3/5 sexy bananas!

The Sex Show is presented in association with STAMP and is playing at the Town Hall’s Concert Chamber until the 13th October.  For more information and to buy tickets, click here.