DIRECTOR and scriptwriter Kirsty Budding is happy to admit that she just can’t get enough of Christmas.
She’s been staging silly season shows since 2013, making mincemeat of the season’s theatrical potential with shows such as “Unwrap Me”, short plays under the title “Santa Baby”, a straighter (more or less) version of “A Christmas Carol” played by children, and Budding’s own scripts “The Night Before Christmas” and “The Christmas Channel”.
Now it’s time for “A Christmas Carol Goes Horribly, Terribly Wrong”.
“This is my own script, too,” she says. “I’ve seen quite a few of those plays, like ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’, and every time I thought to myself: ‘I could write this’.”
“In those commercial productions there’s always a big set falling apart, whereas the joke in this one is that we can’t afford a set, so have to improvise in all sorts of embarrassing ways.”
Actors and backstage crew miss cues or enter too early, set pieces and props end up in the wrong place, forcing inept performers to improvise and the technical operator plays the wrong sound files so that when a bell is supposed to toll to announce a ghost, the audience hears a Nokia ringtone.
Budding’s been having a lot of fun with this one, casting familiar locals as characters from “A Christmas Carol”, as well as a backstage team, technical operator, directors, producer, theatre judges and a reviewer.
Sue Gore Phillips, who in real life stage-manages for Canberra Rep productions, plays the hapless stage manager and Rep leading lady Kate Blackhurst is the over-the-top Mrs Cratchit.
“There are a few new faces, a few young people and quite a few people who have been in my shows before, like Rob Shiells and Matilda Saddington as the pair who’ve fallen in love backstage but have to play brother and sister on stage,” she explains.
You can never have enough ghosts in any stage version of Charles Dickens’ novel, so we’ll see Marley’s Ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Future and the Ghost of Christmas Present as well as all the other Dickens characters and the supposedly diminutive Tiny Tim played by 28-year-old Jake Revill.
A familiar trope in all of these plays-that-go-wrong is the egotistical director. Not content with just one, Budding has written two, played by Bertram O’Brien and Canadian newcomer Robert Karlen who, unaware that the audience are already in the theatre, are caught dressing down the cast by telling them that they just can’t act.
The actors in her script, she says, are a mixed bunch, some with big egos but some who aren’t used to the stage at all. In the Cratchit family for instance, the mother and sister are over-actors, but the brother is only going on because his mum forced him, so he’s completely robotic.
One of her favourite characters is a stage mum who complains about her child not having enough lines and Budding reveals that she got the idea after a conversation on 2CC’s “CityNews Sunday Roast” a couple of months ago when the interviewer cut in: “You never know, the kid might want to do horticulture” – that had got her thinking about a new character.
Having put the boot into just about everyone in the Canberra theatre scene, including theatre critics like me, Budding realised she had to let herself in on some ridicule too, so cast British actor Caitlin Addinell (Budding is noticeably English) as the drunken producer.
“That’s a joke on me, she comes in with a blonde wig,” she tells us. “I’d satirised a lot of things about Canberra theatre in the play, so I really had to make fun of me.”
Budding Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol Goes Horribly, Terribly Wrong”, Belconnen Theatre, December 11, 13, 15 at 8pm, and December 14 at 11am. Tickets at buddingtheatre.com or at the door. The show contains strong language and is suitable for teenagers and adults.