Our blogger Jonty had a chat with Tom Sainsbury and Chris Parker, the master comedy writers behind this year’s Christmas Show The Opening Night Before Christmas, as well as Camping, Hauraki Horror, and many, many others.
The Basement Christmas show is an iconic fixture of the Auckland theatre calendar, how have you made the concept fresh this year?
Tom: It’s the most “kiwi” of the Christmas shows yet. And we’ve taken last year’s device of having the guest actor coming to the show fresh, and improvising the whole time, and taken it up a notch!
Chris: The show is a bit like the English pantomime, people come expecting a certain thing. In this instance, they love the danger of the celebrity improvising through a story they don’t know. Our goal this year was to make a strong and funny story that people can invest into.
What have you learnt from writing or appearing in previous Christmas shows?
Tom: That audiences get drunk. That making celebrity guests sweat/panic but then succeed in improv is a crowd favourite. That New Zealanders love seeing themselves on stage.
Chris: Yes what Tom said, our audience like to get wasted, so you have to get the show on the road. We think our second half will keep them on their toes.
Tell us about this year’s show and what’s inspired it.
Tom: The Opening Night Before Christmas follows the Levin Community Theatre putting on it’s annual Christmas show. But this year the director, Rosalynne Martin-Shanks, has been inspired by the World of Wearable Arts in Wellington. And she is determined to take the show in a new, gritty direction. This new direction includes a celebrity guest actor from Auckland… It was inspired by the amateur dramatics we did as children/teenagers. There were just so many personalities and politics. It was just ripe for satire.
Chris: It’s inspired by the passionate and hard working folk in amateur dramatics, specially in more rural areas. They get to together and do what they do because of shared joint passion. Christmas is about getting together with the ones you love, so setting in an Amateur dramatics theatre society seemed fitting. Also the high pressure environment bringing out the worst in people is also very Christmasy
Who do you want to come see the show? Who is the show for?
Tom: If you enjoy Kath and Kim or David Guest films (Waiting for Godot, Best in Show) or Mike Leigh (Abigail’s Party, Happy Go Lucky) then you will love this show. It’s camp, it’s Christmassy and it’s got kiwi characters you should easily recognise.
Chris: Even though it’s a show about those people who work in theatre, the dynamics and relationships you see on stage reflect any weird office/working environment. Tom and I love joking about people who take their jobs too seriously. So the show is for everyone. Everyone must buy tickets.
Who are some of the celebrities you are excited to see guest star in the show? How do you think the different celebrities will change the performance each night?
Tom: There is a structure of improvisation games that the guest actor can slot into. But that doesn’t mean they can’t completely screw the whole thing up. So we are hoping that potential danger is what will keep the show alive! The different celebrities will change the performance depending on how much they talk. Some might love the sound of their own voice and get out of control. I guess that’s part of the fun.
We are so excited about all the the guests. But Jackie Van Beek is going to slay. As is Morgana O’Reilly and Jaquie Brown. Then there’s Robbie Magasiva. Clair Chitham. Nic Sampson! Too many amazing gems.
Chris: I’m not performing in it because I’m in Wellington, so I’m jealous and won’t answer this question (I adore Morgana O’Reilly and might see if I can see her show).