Silent is not the word to use for the first act of SILENT NIGHT from Darlinghurst Theatre. Some witty single adjective encompassing laugh out loud, occasional hysterical giggle or cringing gasps of recognition might give some inkling of what’s in store for an audience. It has some really funny moments and some excellent jokes, even a few well executed sight gags. It’s light and fun and aimed intelligently at those of us who think Christmas is just a titch over-commercialised. The second act however is a different beast. A seven headed beast which sits uneasily in the Christmas setting.
The audience are welcomed into the theatre with a definite Yule feel. Carols on the audio track and flashing lights of the festive season kind. We meet Bill, head of the Lickfold clan. He is some kind of leftover from a media driven near-apocalyptic era and his hobby is keeping his family safe in the event of an earth ending … um … event. He is very supportive of wife Anne who has again entered the Australian Regional Christmas Exercise/Experiment/Excuse to show off …. Something involving Christmas displays and competition with the Dickshine family across the road. Acronymic and suggestive puns repeated often here. The Dickshines have a son who pitches in for ARCE but the third member of the Lickfold clan is a surly, emo goth who is only 33 when he wants to be.
In the first act as we get to know this pitiful excuse for a family, there are lots of fun moments. Written by Mary Rachel Brown, SILENT NIGHT is at its best when the witty, quick and character based jokes fly, when the excesses ring with uncomfortable truths and when the absurd detail of Lickfold experience is fully expressed.
Unfortunately, the second act, though it has its high points, does grind along a little as the ideas of redemption and the possibilities of starting over are explored. One is left however with an overall enjoyment in the time spent with this crazy family.
As Bill, Richard Sydenham, is put upon and seems completely oblivious to the fact that he is incapable of getting a win. Not an ARCE win but a family win. He is suitably frenetic in places but does have a lot of listening to do later on and handles this well. His command of the physical comedy, the rushing and getting nowhere type of thing, is highly engaging.
In the mode of Kath from ‘Kath and Kim’ Amanda Bishop has created a lovely character in Anne. Without actually making fun of her, Bishop gives us a fiercely protective parent with no ideas of her own. Her over researched and poorly understood excuses for her son’s demeanour and behaviour are grounded in love. Bishop does a great job of placing the jokes just right and Anne’s enthusiasms and drive are fertile ground for her considerable comedic skills.
As the son Rodney, Aaron Glenane does not have a great deal to do early on but manages to make indolence and aberration watchable. It is in the second act that his performance really shines when the other cast are struggling somewhat with the more wordy and contemplative text. His man boy is in his element here and there is a real zest in his later Rodney.
Michael Denkha appears as the unwanted guest in Act Two and his charisma in the role helps lift it but this is a hard to grasp creation despite some good blocking and use of focussed lighting effects by director Glynn Nicholas. There is such a wealth of skill at play with comedy aspects of the text, Nicholas’ use of pause and freezes and sneaky physical comedy is highly amusing. And he has taken an equally comic approach toward the end despite the lack of lighter text.
The set design is clever too, we see a TV set house with one wall removed. The detail outside the doors is very well conceptualised and adds to the absurdity and chaos. The lighting of the set is simple enough in Act One, but becomes more defining and focussing in Act Two. The delight though is in the Xmas lighting outside the living space … OTT and even with a clever joke on the roof. The audio track is excellent, I loved the use of choir and hellish groans and bells and ghostly devils on the interval track.
In fact, there is a great deal to like about SILENT NIGHT. Whether you are a silent smiler or a raucous reveller this show is a fun slide into the drudgery of real life Christmas.
SILENT NIGHT is playing at the Eternity Theatre until December 10th .
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