A Very Naughty Christmas Joe Kalou credit James Terry

‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ // Woodward Productions

‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ was cheeky.

The festive season is here again. Houses are decorated in lights and wreaths. Presents are starting to mount up under Christmas trees. The smell of roasts and seafood barbecues are wafting throughout the air. It really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And while the holiday is traditionally regarded as a time to enjoy family-friendly fun, the crew at Woodward Productions have other ideas. They are encouraging Melburnians to ditch their ‘nice’ side this December as they premiere their iconic comedy cabaret show, ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’.

A staple of Brisbane’s theatrical holiday calendar for the past several years, ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ is coming down the East Coast chimney to Melbourne for the first time in 2023. The first iteration of ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ premiered during the holiday season of 2017 at the Brisbane Powerhouse. Originally structured as an adult-orientated festive fable, the show slowly transitioned into a comedy-cabaret hybrid each progressive season. Becoming a cult classic of sorts, the show’s popularity saw it shift to the larger La Boite Theatre in 2022 to accommodate audience demand. 2023 sees ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ running concurrent seasons in both Brisbane and Melbourne. It is the first year the show has performed outside its native Queensland.

Stylised as a Christmas-themed skit comedy cabaret concert, the production offers audiences 80 minutes of unrelenting, seductive hilarity. From dancing to comedy sketches, and sing-alongs to storytelling, ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ is a holiday pageant of a very adult persuasion. With each segment of the show lasting no longer than roughly five minutes, audiences are sure to find something wrapped up in the performance that is sure to tickle their fancy.

For its premiere Melbourne season, ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ is calling St Kilda’s Alex Theatre home. Alex Theatre feels perfectly situated amongst the bustling cafés and bars of trendy Fitzroy Street. Once audiences ascend the stairs to the lobby they are greeted with a mural of classic Broadway posters adorning the wall. Slick, crimson carpet guide patrons into the eclectic waiting area. An intriguing hybrid of a 1920s jazz hall and oriental tea room, the waiting area’s décor includes everything from a baby grand piano and velvet curtains to proud horse statue and a London phone box within a gilded golden frame. Pairing the show with the venue is a genius of eccentricity. Before even entering into the theatre itself, audiences are already provided a hint about the frivolity they are about to witness.

Once seated in the theatre, audiences are faced with a grand set piece. Two staircases, illuminated in blue lighting, bookend the stage. Beside each staircase stand identical Christmas trees, decorated as mirror images of each other. At the centre of the stage is a hollowed platform. It too is illuminated in blue neon lighting. A red curtain drapes across the arched opening of the platform – a stage within a stage. On top of the platform, several pieces of musical equipment stand dormant. A large, candy cane-striped pole ascends from the centre of the platform in a similar manner to a fireman’s pole. The metaphoric bow on top of the set’s presence (pun intended) is the show’s title adorning in stylised lettering on the back wall.

The set is presented as calming and inviting. With soft blue overhead lighting framing the stage, the set feels perfectly designed for a Christmas show. Set Designer Josh McIntosh creates an atmosphere of tranquillity onstage. His alluring design is clever in its subversive nature. While the set is presented as pristine and quiet, the impending performance’s rambunctious nature juxtaposes it in almost every way. This is perhaps a smart decision on McIntosh’s part as it strengthens the performance two-fold by a) drawing the audience’s focus away from the set and to the performers, and b) waters down the intensity of the show so as not to be too overbearing.

Similar can be said of the lighting choices throughout ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’. Lighting Designer Declan O’Neill’s lighting choices are relatively stripped back throughout. The grandiose nature of the show comes foremost from the performance itself which means the lighting is kept fairly neutral throughout. That is not to say the show is without theatrical flair. The opening scene sees the cast silhouetted behind the curtain singing carols. O’Neill’s illumination of the cast is quite impressive, providing notes of shadow-puppet show. Another ‘highlight’ of O’Neill’s design is his integration of smoke into the lighting – specifically when Santa walks down the theatre’s central aisle from the rear. The amalgamation of green lighting and smoke effects provide the scene with an eerie feeling, as if the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has arrived for Ebenezer Scrooge. Assisted by the stage and production team (consisting of Nicola Taylor, Emily Gilhome and Katie Head), both the set and lighting elements of ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ are reserved, yet well executed.

In a show so heavily reliant on music, it is no surprise that ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’’ sound is used evocatively. The Sound team – comprising of Designer Ben Murray, Operator Brady Watkins, and Technician Lachlan Van Der Kreek – work unanimously to provide the show with jaunty acoustics. Audio is strong throughout the production’s entirety. It is most impressive when injected into (mostly) music-free comedy skits. This is best witnessed during the ‘Story of the First Christmas segment’ where repeated sections of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” reverberate throughout the theatre. By instilling some sound-driven physical comedy into such scenes, Murray, Watkins, and Van Der Kreek induce cackles from the audience. Much of ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’’ audio is loud and domineering, pairing naturally with the audacity of the performance.

Musicians work in conjunction with the sound team to provide a jovial soundtrack to ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’. Led by Music Supervisor Dominic Woodhead and Music Director Martine Wengrow (who doubles as pianist), the show’s lively orchestration is aptly performed. The three piece band consisting of Wengrow, Sam Ainslie (guitar and bass) and Facu Alvarez (drums) sit atop the set’s platform, serving as integral a role as the acting cast. Not a single beat is missed throughout the performance. The expertise of each musician is obvious. As is often the case with cabaret shows, the instrumentation of the performance is integral to its success. Wengrow, Ainslie, and Alvarez’s unified performance provides a strong basis for the show’s musical elements. Much of the show’s music is based around Christmas songs and carols audiences are aware of (only re-written in a more mature – or immature, depending on how you look at it – way). It is therefore important that the music is kept faithful, and performed faithfully, to its original form. On both matters, the music of ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ succeed.

One of the show’s biggest high points is its costume design. Merging the aesthetics of a sultry cabaret show with a Christmas pantomime can be tricky, but Costume Designer Isaac Lummis proves he is up for the challenge. Costumes are equal parts festive and suggestive in just the right measure. Each performer embodies a character and/or colour scheme relevant to Christmas: an elf, a toy soldier, reds, greens, and of course Santa himself. Lummis alters each costume in a provocative manner however. Sequined bras, chest-exposing vests, and barely-there skirts are a plenty. The message of ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ is that the holiday period can be both fun and sexy – a message Lummis wonderfully adopts to his costume design. Audiences are sure to find it difficult to take their eyes off the designs, perfectly exemplifying the cheeky cheerfulness of the show.

Along with costuming, the choreography of ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ is a standout. While the show adopts a mixed, variety-style comedy show format, it is during the dance sequences that it really shines. Choreographer Dan Venz (who also dons the prestigious hats of Creator, Writer, and Director) infuses a unique combination of high-octane sensuality into the show’s dance routines. The biggest crowd pleasers come from a striptease duet and a homage to ‘Mean Girls’’ “Jingle Bell Rock” dance. The choreography is seamless throughout the production, with each performer giving their all. While the show is packed to the rafters with one liners and suggestive entendres, it is during its quiet, lascivious dance routines that the show shines like a star atop a Christmas tree.

That being said, the show’s use of comedy is guaranteed to evoke plenty of belly laughs. The team of Venz, Alex Woodward (Executive Producer and Creator), Claire Dix (Assistant Producer), Alistair Smith (Co-Director and Writer), in conjunction with Skit Writers Emily Kristopher, Stephen Hirst, and Matt Semple, join together to create a rambunctious show definitely not for children. Moments of adult-orientated hilarity is spread all throughout the show. As is to be expected with any kind of variety show, some segments work more successfully than others. It is pertinent to note that as comedy is subjective, not all jokes will land with everyone. Many do, though. The aforementioned ‘Story of the First Christmas’ is an arguable highlight, so too the “I Touch My Elf” parody.

The eight-piece cast of ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ prove to be the gift that keeps giving to the show’s hilarity. While 2023 marks the show’s first foray for Melbourne audiences, several cast members have returned after performing in its previous Brisbane productions. One such performer is Kate Yaxley who feels very much at home of the ‘Naughty’ stage. Her infectious cheeriness provides the show with a dose of sweet humour. Joe Kalou’s cool-guy persona is well developed. His unique rendition of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” is sure to be a memorable moment for audiences. Madeline Pratt and Joshua Spinello’s dancing is mesmerising. Both are equally versatile and difficult to pry your eyes away from during their respective routines. Jordan Twigg’s vocal range is, for lack of a better word, outstanding. Her inebriated version of “Jingle Bells” is beautiful, hilarious, and memorable in all the right ways. Rebecca Rolle, Shay Debney, and Tim Paige are standouts, however. Rolle, as Santa’s risqué-dressed helper, proves herself to be a natural comedic actress. Her comic timing and delivery is consistently utilised expertly well throughout the show. As Santa’s Elf, Debney, is charmingly simple-minded. His talent for physical comedy demonstrate why he has remained a regular member of the show for so long. Paige plays the big man in red to ostentatious perfection. His commitment to the role (in more ways than one) is obvious and commendable. The chemistry of the cast is paramount to much of ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’’ success. Each member is willing to give it their all, resulting in a wickedly good time for audiences.

After several years of waiting, Melbourne is finally on the ‘nice’ (or is it ‘naughty’) list and has been gifted with a visit from ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’. A strictly adults-only affair, the show proves Christmas is not just a holiday for kids. With music, comedy, and innuendos galore, ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ has loudly come down Melbourne’s chimney to sit beneath St Kilda’s Christmas Tree. So, throw those sausages on the barbecue, hang up your fishnet stockings over the fireplace, and pour yourself a mug of mulled wine. It’s Christmas – the most naughtiest time of the year! 

‘A Very Naughty Christmas’ performs until Saturday, 23 December 2023 at St Kilda’s Alex Theatre. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit the theatre’s website.

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