Got a case of the jingle bell blues? Kick the school Christmas play to the kerb this year and enjoy a night of punny pantomime with 'Babes In The Woods' at the Old Fitz in Sydney.
Putting a contemporary comedic spin on the classic children's story ('Babes In The Wood'), Don't Look Away Theatre Company subverts the moralistic tale and turns it into a Santa-sized farce as a way of providing the perfect antidote to 2016.
“It's a revival of a Christmas tradition, with a lot of big fun,” writer/director Phil Rouse says.
“It's all around you, there's audience interaction, we're going to sell the audience beers and they get to buy cabbage to throw at their favourite – or least favourite – actor, depending on their heart's desire.
“We're really making a big event out of the notion of being an adult and going to a pantomime with those pantomime rules, and giving everyone a chance to let their hair down a bit. It's been a pretty big year, 2016, in many ways.”
'Babes In the Wood' is originally a folk tale about avarice in which two children are sent to live with relatives after the death of their father.
Phil says that while they've retained the general story, this version exhibits a uniquely Australian flavour.
“In terms of the actual story, we meet Aunty Avarica who's struggling to make ends meet on her terribly-run farm. One day, in come the two children of her estranged brother, who happens to be much wealthier than her, and they come bearing a will saying their father has died and left everything to them.
“There's a clause in the will however that says if the children die then all of his possessions go to Aunty Avarica, and therein lies her attempts to dispatch these two wailing babes and get her hands on all of her brother's inheritance. There are a lot of very stupid things happening on stage in a very short amount of time.”
The sombre and grim plot of the original tale becomes a black comedy tinctured with sardonic social commentary, as the children discover what money really does to people.
“There's a wonderful scene where the babes have just been saved in the bush by the Angel Of White Privilege – you can see where I'm going with this,” Phil says.
“They finally figure out their aunty is trying to kill them for their inheritance money and they go from being very gentle in their approach with people who are not of their socioeconomic status, to being quite damning very quickly when they realise that they're just trying to get their hands on your money.”
Witticisms aside, let's return to this notion of buying from the actors and barraging them with cabbage. Phil explains it's their way of encouraging audience interaction, recalling the rough-and-tumble crowds of The Globe Theatre in 17th century London.
“In this country, at least, we sit quietly in a room while other people do something,” he says.
“We really want to break that down and turn it it into more of an event where the audience are as much an active participant as the performers, without necessarily having to embarrass people and get them up on stage. It's giving the audience as much permission as possible to get over the in-built way of being an audience.”