What Santa Does Other Days of the Year – The Genesian make us laugh like kids. (Theatre Review)

What Santa Does Other Days of the Year

23 November to 8 Dacember.

The Gensian Theatre. You can grab your tickets here. 

The annual pantomime is a staple of every long-lived theatre. They are smaller affairs today than the original Augustus Harris concoctions from London’s Drury theatre started in 1879, but they still contain a lot of corny jokes and some small version of razzle dazzle. Most of all, they are a crafted joy that gives the audience a rare opportunity to call out and interact with the actors and performance, truly understanding what audience engagement means. And herein lies the magic. Pantomime doesn’t have to be perfectly executed, but it does have to delight its audience; an audience who attend with the expectation and willingness to be delighted. What greater way to launch yourself into the spirit of Christmas, than to get to the Christmas pantomime as early as possible.

Leave it to the fabulous Genesian theatre to come up with their own pantomime for Christmas. The enormously hard-working Roger Gimblett has managed to find some spare time in this most difficult of years as Theatre Director of the iconic Kent Street space (the good news is The Genesian is there for another twelve months) to write the book and lyrics for a wonderful little production entitled What Santa Does Other Days of the Year. With music by Sally Bodkin-Allen a bunch of gorgeous little Chrissy songs are held together by Roger Gimblett’s charming piece about Santa possibly buying an electric sleigh and dissing the old-fashioned Reindeer powered one. You can imagine the crises this causes among the caribous and soon Santa is dealing with strikes, unions and bad press. The story is fresh, and the cute-as-a-button songs engaging. I and my plus one attended on a Sunday for the matinee and left feeling the joyful excitement of Christmas none of those early decorations seem incapable of exciting. We whispered about getting the Christmas tree up as soon as possible and left with a spring in our step.

This is nothing, however, to the excitement and joy the younger audience members exhibited, particularly in response to the wonderful efforts of Tristan Black as Alf the Elf. His classic pantomime engagement, corny jokes and hammy stage antics endeared him to the younger (and older) folk within seconds of his head poking out of the curtain. By the end he had ‘em all eating out of the palm of his hand and keen to get into the Christmas spirit. A little connection with name and faces at interval made the post-break antics all the more joyful. The littlies were squealing with laughter and joy by the end. Coupled with Douglas Rumble as the most convincing Santa you will ever see the production has all the powerhouse basics required for lots of Christmas fun.

Shane Bates does a wonderful job calling forth a well-chosen cast who do justice to Roger Gimblett’s efforts. Melanie Robinson is a marvelous addition as the extremely hard-working Mrs. Christmas (it’s a very funny and enjoyable running gag that she struggles to get to all her ‘meetings’) while Elisabeth MacGregor is a glorious surprise as an all new character Miss Calendar. She gets one of the shows few solos and it’s a beautiful, heartwarming moment. The all-important trouble making reindeers are Juniper (Chris Hamby) and Snowflake (Rosanna Hurley) who bring the play’s conflict to life and add their own touch of pizazz to proceedings. Rosanna Hurley is particularly gorgeous as she plays out her antics and brings a too-cute-to-be-true sweetness to her role.

It’s not just a great cast assembled by Shane Bates here. Helen Kohlhagen’s costumes are pure delight and stage management (particularly Glen Harman) is far more fun than stage management ought to be. The set, it seems has been cobbled together very successfully from previous productions and loses nothing in its eclectic stylings. A hard-working Ho-Seck Lee backs it all up with a consistent and reliable piano and Michael Schell is on hand to provide lighting (that has it’s own running gag) and cheery sound design. Shane Bates has done a thorough job as usual, recognizing talent and bringing it to the fore and playing to her company’s full strengths, adding her own considerable wit and sharp eye to the already clever script.

Christmas pantomimes are meant to be good money spinners for a theatre company, and a great way to round out a successful year. It’s not a staple of the Genesian calendar to end on this note, but they do it well, and hopefully will feel encouraged to give us Christmas productions in years to come. What Santa Does the other Days of the Year is lots of fun and a great way to nudge you into the Christmas spirit. Take a child if you can  – you’ll have a wonderful time!

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