Theatre review: Criminal Christmas, Herald Theatre

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Chris Tempest. Photo / Supplied
Chris Tempest. Photo / Supplied

Outfit Theatre's Christmas romp opens with a premise that is guaranteed to generate mayhem: a troupe of six seriously psychotic criminals on a community service programme are obliged to stage a Nativity play in a seedy resthome while a couple of con artists are plotting to murder the bewildered owner of the institution.

A bizarre collection of delinquent characters make the most of the abundant opportunities to cause trouble and the ensuing chaos is ramped up by recurrent bouts of accidental drug-taking.

The absurdist flavour of the farce is neatly enhanced by John Parker's set design which features a backdrop of 12 doors - each one different but all painted in institutional pastel green and given a Kafkaesque edge by the sharp shadows of Brad Gledhill's lighting design. The play cleverly toys with the conventions of a traditional farce with convoluted plotting, mistaken identities and plenty of slapstick silliness.

The large enthusiastic cast all throw themselves into their performances, though at times the production stretches precariously between two barstools as the wild unpredictability of improvised theatre is welded on to the complex structure of a fully scripted drama.

Chris Tempest is perhaps the most successful at embracing the weirdness of the whole enterprise with a finely balanced performance that makes effective use of physical theatre techniques.

Colin Garlic and Chris Neels get plenty of laughs with some curiously discursive dialogue while shaping up for a knife fight.

Andrew Ford brings a welcome low-key approach to a well-drawn character, while Mick Innes has some hilarious moments as a hard case Kiwi bloke with an outrageously inappropriate dress sense. The intensity levels are sometimes overplayed but the craziness all seems to gel with a drug-addled rendition of Silent Night and the preposterous twists and turns of the exuberant finale.

Now completing its third season, Outfit Theatre began life as an outlet for the energy of Unitec drama school graduates who didn't want to sit around waiting for opportunity to knock. The company continues to impress with its enterprising commitment to actor-driven theatre and an infectious sense of fun.

THEATRE REVIEW

Where: Herald Theatre, to December 18.

- NZ Herald

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