A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters certainly succeeds in nurturing the Christmas spirit among audience members. As you enter, the performance space is decked out with tinsel, a Christmas tree and a sofa. The audiences’ seats, spread out around three sides of space, are covered with homely blankets of all varieties. The performers set about welcoming us guests to their Christmas party as the audience are seated, through awkward small-talk exchanges – the kind that we can all imagine taking place at family and friend get-togethers.
They continue to try and break down that fourth wall throughout the performance, offering us Quality Street chocolates and asking for help with a crossword. Aided by the intimacy of the space, they do a good job of attempting to make us feel like we really are all guests at a party. But it is not always consistent. Something about them dropping in and out of character as they read letters in different accents – in and out of responding to the audiences’ giggles – means that the audience-performer barrier is not fully removed, leaving me a little uncomfortable at times about my role.
I enjoy the trivial concept behind the piece, but found it too drawn out. For a good half hour, it seems we are listening to the round robin passages about “golden” children, before they finally deliver the crux – that they are a lesbian couple, hung up about the fact that they cannot have children. Then the same pattern happens over again, just with sad letters, so for me the reading becomes a little overdone. That being said, the play is relatively short so it wasn’t a major gripe.
The way homosexuality is dealt with in a nonchalant way is refreshing. There is no song and dance or flashing lights pointing to the fact that this is a homosexual couple – as I find is often the case. Rather, I hope it represents a shift in theatrical treatment of the subject matter – breeding an attitude towards homosexuality as a quite ordinary thing.
At times, the acting feels stiff. I was unsure whether they were going for a character or their normal selves.
Overall, the play is highly humorous and warm. The comedic treatment of round-robin letters is a great concept and well done. The added humour of playing on the awkwardness of audience participation is also amusing and works well to ease tension among audience members, creating a fitting atmosphere of community and Christmas spirit.
A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters is playing at The Hope Theatre until December 23 2017.
Photo: Hope Theatre