Theatre review: Xmas Crackers

Silly and funny in equal measures, a cracking good show.

Think Christmas theatre productions and inevitably you conjure up pictures of pantomime, lush idealised Dickensian fantasies, ballet or some other family-oriented sentiment. But what if we had a Christmas production that was not through the eyes of and/or for children, but for their parents instead?

Well, we have the answer to that question with the uproarious Xmas Crackers, the latest offering from Townsville’s TheatreiNQ and the company’s first Christmas production, which will perhaps be the start of a new Townsville tradition. 

Always the first to acknowledge and pay tribute to her mentor and teacher, the late Jean-Pierre Voos, artistic director Terri Brabon has developed an idea that Voos established some years ago called The Zim-Zoom Show. This farcical satire, which very often poked light-hearted fun at things we hold dear, became something of an annual event on the local theatre calendar. Brabon was inspired by the idea and has characteristically pushed it even further to develop it around the theme of Christmas. The result is an original work that has as much sparkle as a Christmas tree, and more humour than one can pack into an average 90-minute show.

From the very start when the lights went down, the opening night audience cottoned on that they were in for something completely different. We were flung headlong into a night of crazy and chaotic fun that continued at breakneck speed. So much was happening on stage that it was hard to know where to look or what to listen to, but the audience’s response was much as one would expect when presented with such resonant interactive nonsense. And, boy, what fun it was!   

Harking directly back to the Voos roots, the show begins with two very Aussie Christmas elves, Zim Ding (Ashleigh Dodson) and Zim Dong (Nicholas Rose). Through means of Christmas crackers pulled with the audience, we learn which of the five ‘professional idiots’ will play the caricature-like Mum, Dad, Nanna and the two kids of the house. Whether by design or default, it becomes clear as the show goes on that the roles are interchangeable as the manic five-member ensemble cast (Michael Doris, Michael Gleeson, Emma Lamberton, Keely Pronk and Paris Walsh) swap parts.

This is ensemble work at its very best and all the actors deliver performances that are always frantically funny and totally identifiable characters in festive situations we can all relate to. From the varying reactions while watching the ‘Christmas movie’ as a family (Mum loves it, Dad hates it) to the idiotic competitive party games that very often bring out the worst in families… it is all there. 

There are the awful Christmas cracker jokes that only the person reading the joke laughs at but which become progressively worse as alcohol takes hold, dealing with unexpected callers at the door, the loo race as everyone jostles for their ‘turn on the throne’ as the effects of overeating are felt and then, of course, the Christmas songs!

Finding humour through the use of familiar music is always an integral part of Brabon’s productions, and this time there are some surprises. Aside from the recitation of familiar song lyrics, the splicing of Christmas songs and carols with other well-known songs is a masterful stroke of comic genius. 

Read: Theatre review: The Tempest, Sydney Theatre Company

While the content of the show is unpredictable – the audience reaction on opening night most certainly was not. Rarely have I ever seen an opening audience laughing so uncontrollably. This has got to be one of the funniest original productions I have seen – such a (gin and) tonic for our times! 

Xmas Crackers
A TheatreiNQ production devised and directed by Terri Brabon based on a concept by Jean-Pierre Voos. 

The Clubhouse, Townsville
Lighting design: Daniel Lobley
Set design and construction: Brendan O’Connor
Costumes: Kathy Brabon
Cast: Michael Doris, Michael Gleeson, Emma Lamberton, Keely Pronk, Paris Walsh, Ashleigh Dodson, Nicholas Rose, Rosalili Ford, Victoria Fowler, Lisandro Garcia, Emma Smith

Xmas Crackers will be performed until 10 December 2022.

Trevor Keeling has been involved in the arts and creative industries for 40 years in Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. He has been an actor, theatre director, journalist and critic, publisher, broadcaster, music festival director, event manager and arts administrator. Since coming to Australia in 1991, he appeared in numerous productions in Adelaide, and was Festival Director of the Glenelg Jazz Festival for six years. He was General Manager of Dancenorth in Townsville (2005-2006 and 2011-2014) and for three years was CEO of Mirndiyan Gunana Aboriginal Corporation, which included managing the world-renowned Indigenous Mornington Island Dancers. He has worked in urban, regional and remote environments in Australia and has a particular focus on regional arts and the connection to community.