‘Christmas Day’ was engaging.
There is something inexplicably wholesome about good Australia Day theatre, and ‘Christmas Day’ by Mates Theatre Genesis, with its charming pre-show dining-under-the-stars experience, did not disappoint on a typical Queensland summer’s evening.
Telling the story of two sisters who come together to celebrate Christmas with their father and stepmother, Claire Haywood’s ‘Christmas Day’ was perhaps not the most obvious choice for an Australia Day celebration, especially during the second act where the family reunion is thrown into chaos by the unexpected arrival of their mentally ill mother. However, the small ensemble cast of 6 tackled the play’s intricate writing with gusto in the intimate setting of the Redland Museum.
Sharon Vassallo, who portrayed Kate – the older, stabler sister – did so with a fierce determination. Although opening night nerves were noticeable and occasionally affected the flow of dialogue, her heart-wrenching journey from overbearing sister to vulnerable daughter was believable and the audience was fully invested in the arc of the character. Kat Waisel, who played Louise, Kate’s younger, freer sister was a breath of fresh air from the moment she walked onto the stage. Her portrayal of a sister who appears to have it all, but beneath the surface everything is crumbling, was hauntingly beautiful to watch.
The sisters’ father and stepmother, Chas and Margaret, played by Chad Sherrin and Tracey Mann were generally understated and unassuming, however, this meant that the moments in which they did draw focus were impactful and poignant. Sherrin’s realisation that his secret has finally been revealed was harrowing and the subtlety of the delivery was beautiful.
Dallas Fogarty’s portrayal of Gavin, Kate’s toyboy served as the story’s comic relief. Never far from his guitar, Fogarty’s vocals served to break several tense moments of the play and kept the entire work moving forward. It would have been even better if the instruments were played live, but the pre-recorded backings didn’t distract. Arguably it was Fogarty’s interaction with Louise that was most believable and when coupled with a gorgeous lighting design, it made this scene the most memorable of the night.
Commendations to Director, Debbie Spearritt, for ensuring that the portrayal of mental health issues in ‘Christmas Day’ was approached with sensitivity and respect. Diana Gogulski’s characterisation of Grace, the mother, was the perfect balance of lucid and frantic and was depicted in an extremely tasteful way. Gogulski’s comedy was well timed and gauged and created some needed comic relief to a play that hurtles towards darkness at a rapid rate.
The technical elements of the play were handled well throughout the night, despite some small slips. James Auld’s lighting and sound design were generally well thought out especially the lighting for the television set, however, the stark silences between scenes could have been softened with some music.
Overall, ‘Christmas Day’ was an enjoyable evening. The collaboration between MTG and the Redland Museum was charming and shows that community theatre is well and truly alive in the Redlands!
‘Christmas Day’ performs at the old museum until February 9 2019. Get your tickets at http://matestg.org.au.