Cabaret review: A Very Naughty Christmas, Alex Theatre

A Christmas-themed show that felt divorced from anything remotely boundary-pushing, gender-bending or creative.
A Very Naughty Christmas. Group of young people in Christmas clothes preening for the camera.

This reviewer has a personal aversion to the word “naughty”. It conjures images of lascivious wet-lipped lechers or straighty-one-eighties tittering behind their hands at the pronouncement of the word “bum”. It’s neither sexy nor interesting – so what to make of A Very Naughty Christmas, a Christmas-themed cabaret at the Alex Theatre in St Kilda?

The theatre was packed and – after several very successful, sell-out runs in Brisbane after its initial creation in 2017 – co-creators Alex Woodward and Daniel Venz have taken their slickly-produced (Woodward) and directed (for the Melbourne-run, Alister Smith) 80-minute, aged 18 and over show to Melbourne.

Despite being “cabaret” of sorts, seating was in theatre-style seating rows with a centre aisle rather than cabaret-style tables. The proscenium arch revealed a set constructed with two staircases at each side of the raised stage, linking the mezzanine section with the main, lower part. The band, consisting of a keyboard player, guitarist and drummer, were on the upper part of the stage, playing jazzy versions of well-known Christmas tunes as the audience arrived. Beneath them, curtains shrouded the back of the lower part of the stage, allowing for the cast to appear as silhouettes when backlit – which is how the show opened.

One would think in the heart of St Kilda, a “naughty” Christmas cabaret would be… well, a bit queer and hopefully a bit edgy. Sadly, apart from the jokes and innuendo about the hairy, grey-bearded hipster-dad Santa (Tim Paige) in red boxer shorts getting off with the campy Elf character (Shay Debney), this show was about as far from queer as you can get. One number from a male performer (Joe Kalou, of Hi-5 fame) involved taking off his clothes to reveal women’s underwear underneath, which felt about as risqué as fruit punch. Even the burlesque elements of the show revealed no actual nudity, which added to the general sense of PG-ness.

It felt like cabaret for people who don’t actually see cabaret, divorced from anything remotely boundary-pushing or gender-bending or creative.

Having said all that – the audience was absolutely loving it. The theatregoers behind me were cackling so loudly I had to block my ears at one point. Woodward and Venz have clearly found an audience that finds this content – comprising Christmas puns full of innuendo (‘Santa is coming’ etc), reworked Christmas songs (including one about Santa not liking poor people, which I found particularly grating, as well as the strangely chosen Six White Boomers by Rolf Harris) and skits about Santa being woke-cultured out of being able to say ‘ho ho ho’ and ‘boys and girls’ anymore – dead-set hilarious.

Read: Performance review: Gatsby at the Green Light

There were a few genuinely funny moments in the show. One that stood out was the reworking of ‘I Touch Myself’ by Divinyls to the seduction-by-proxy of an audience member to the lyrics ‘When I think about you, I Touch My Elf’, which was just so ridiculous and made very funny by the committed comedic performances of boudoir-attired Rebecca Rolle and pushed-around elf Shay Debney.

As a whole, however, the show left me feeling sad for all the incredibly talented comedic actors, performers and dancers, designers, musicians and tech people who were reduced to expending their considerable talents creating and performing what felt essentially like a kids’ pantomime for adults.

But look: if they’re in it for the claps, they got that. For what it is, it’s clearly working.  

A Very Naughty Christmas
Creator/Producer: Alex Woodward, Woodward Productions
Director/Creator: Daniel Venz
Director: Alister Smith
Cast: Joe Kalou, Jordan Twigg, Joshua Spiniello (not performing on the night the production was reviewed), Kate Yaxley, Madeline Pratt, Rebecca Rolle, Shay Debney and Tim Paige

Alex Theatre, St Kilda
7-23 December 2023
Tickets from $59

Kate Mulqueen is an actor, writer, musician and theatre-maker based in Naarm (Melbourne). Instagram: @picklingspirits Facebook: @katemulq Twitter: @katemulqueen