According to the promotional material, A Christmas Tale was “…inspired by real-life conversations and stories about Christmas from women across Australia”. A ‘Girls Act Good’ production, performed by Lisa Dallinger, Tegan Jones, Kelley Kerr Young, Shanon Kulupach, Emma Jo McKay and Constance Washington, and directed by Jennifer Monk, the show does showcase the endearing peculiarities of a range of Aussie family’s Christmas’. It brings to mind the audiences own family traditions and childhood experiences, which may be a nostalgic moment for many. The performances also encourages some self-reflection about the meaning of Christmas, and whether modern busy life and the demands of ‘adulting’ has robbed us all of the magic of Christmas.
As a whole, the show is very hard to characterise within a specific genre. While the term cabaret is mentioned in the promotional material, that does set the audience up for a bit of disappointment, as there was very little singing, and what was included appeared to be primarily for comedic value (and was therefore not of a high standard – quite deliberately I assume). Technically, there was also some dancing, but that was primarily to identify the scene changes, rather than for performance value in its own right. There was a comedic element, as promised, but it was understated. Enough to stop the subject matter from being too heavy, and to give the audience an occasional laugh, but I definitely wouldn’t identify A Christmas Tale as a comedy. It did leave me with quite a warm feeling though – it was genuine and heartfelt. The stories felt real and the performers, for the most part delivered quite distinctly different characters, despite a lack of costume changes or much in the way of props or set. Costumes were minimal – matching black pinafores, with Christmas aprons to begin with. The different characters were created entirely using voice, mannerisms and body language.
A nice directorial touch was how the Christmas tree was progressively decorated by the various characters through the performance. The explicitly Australian ‘ads’ in between Christmas vignettes were a creative and amusing counterpoint to the more personal stories, but were also distinctly part of an Aussie Christmas. How many times have we all see the Chrisco ads throughout the years!?
The cast managed the extremely small stage well, making good use of the space available, and often coming into the audience. Lighting and sound were used effectively to illustrate the various stories and separate each fragment. One amusing moment has most of the cast playing the part of the lit Christmas decorations in a garden on The Boulevard, in Ivanhoe.
A Christmas Tale filled an amusing hour with heartfelt stories worth remembering and sharing, an aural and visual history of the Australian ‘Christmas that was’ – and that may still be, in Australian homes, and in our hearts and memories.