I had not heard of Bella Union until my ticket confirmation came through, so it came as quite a surprise to me that it was located within the multi-purpose, Trades Hall. Trades Hall is such a grand old building and I have frequented it for a variety of events from the Comedy Festival to the debauchery of the odd Friday night at Finishing School. Perhaps even more pleasingly, Trades Hall is in my hood and I’m always enticed by a show that also involves a leisurely stroll to and from. Despite the agreeable proximity of the venue, I found myself running ten minutes late and by the time I surreptitiously snuck in the back, Christ Almighty! was in full force. Once I was comfortable with my late-comer seat, I was able to look around the room- (which was packed), and the audience was already laughing raucously. The night had begun well!
As an adult who is prone to missing sleep the night before Christmas due to the excitement of the following day, the idea of seeing a subversive Christmas play in the lead up to the big day, is right up my festive alley.
Appropriately titled Christ Almighty! the show is a comedy with an expansive and rotating cast performing what were essentially just monologues. Breaking the fourth wall, the audience assumed the role of ‘the people of Bethlehem’ at the time of the birth of Christ. The stage was simple and had as its central piece, a hanging blue star that nearly all of the characters referred to at some point. A self-proclaimed sucker for set design, this simplicity to me seemed somewhat lazy. With that said, it was a character driven show and while the set design would have been secondary to this, I believe the show could have been enhanced with more attention to this department. The costumes, on the other hand were expertly chosen and thrilling to watch. There were sequins, fake hair, disco balls, wigs, animal suits and men in drag. On that, I thought the most impressive performance came from the man that played Mary (I could never find the actor’s name online) who paced around the stage, fit with a blonde wig and his hairy legs and masculine voice…exposed. I’m not entirely sure why the choice was made but either way, it worked.
The play was a smorgasbord of outrageous, colourful characters all having been confronted with the birth of The Saviour. While it was robust and spirited, in my opinion it just wasn’t overly funny. The humour was a little on-the-nose and has been done to death and indeed, done better. It was as if The Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979) and Dogma (Kevin Smith, 1999) had a lovechild and called it Christ Almighty! but it didn’t work as effectively or with as much depth. I don’t have extensive criticism with respect to this show, but I also don’t have loads of compliments. For want of a better way to describe my evening, Christ Almighty! was good, but it wasn’t great. For someone who grew up on a steady diet of satire (particularly Monty Python’s Life of Brian), religious satire of a similar nature needs to either reveal something different than what’s already been done, or make me laugh.
The actors were enthusiastic and engaged but certainly not polished. With this said, the festive silliness of the material meant that they didn’t have to be and I can firmly say that I am out on a limb by myself here because the audience were falling about laughing throughout. What was good about this show was the way a majority of the actors interacted (or attempted to engage) with the audience, particularly the actor that played a glutinous Kind Herod. I would argue though, they could have gone even further with this. I also found the characterisations to be caricatures which meant that the show lacked depth. While the audience appeared to be thoroughly enjoying the show and interacting when encouraged (which was great), I probably only laughed once and that was by the story arc of the donkey. The sheer absurdity of it got me giggling. Joseph’s donkey. Being taken advantage of. By Joseph- brilliant.
I can only imagine that Christ Almighty! had a successful run at Bella Union and one extremely positive aspect of the night was the fact that it was brought to us by Launch Housing, an organisation that aims to end homelessness. This gave the whole night a warm, socially conscious and indeed festive feel. If you think Carols by Candlelight is for the faint hearted, a play like Christ Almighty! might be the Melbourne Christmas event.