Review: Thirty Christmases (New Diorama)

Jonny and the Baptists team up with Rachel Parris for this Christmas comedy

Jonny Donahoe, Paddy Gervers and Rachel Parris in Thirty Christmases
Jonny Donahoe, Paddy Gervers and Rachel Parris in Thirty Christmases
© Josh Tomalin

Christmas means coming together – especially for musicians. John and Yoko. Bing and Bowie. Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé. The New Diorama has a special duet of its own this year, as musical comedians Jonny and the Baptists and Rachel Parris join forces to deliver the theatrical equivalent of a novelty Christmas album.

But the thing about Christmas albums is that they tend to be a bit thrown-together – intriguing enough to pick up, insubstantial enough to put down again – and Thirty Christmases is indeed more stocking filler than considered gift. Mixing storytelling with a sprinkle of spoofish seasonal songs, it aims to capture Christmas in all its glorious ambivalence: good will and bad. It’s a show that knows there are white Christmases and black ones; that the most wonderful time of the year can also be the most miserable. One person’s cynical consumerist free-for-all is another’s sentimental family time. Every Christmas has its own character.

That’s why they chart a lifetime of them – not quite the promised 30, but near enough – to unfold the story of an estranged brother and sister. Jonny Donahoe and Rachel Parris play the siblings of a single-parent family, reunited after a decade apart by their best friend Paddy Gervers (as in ‘The Baptists’). Their mother walked out on them for a well-off Welsh accountant, leaving their "socialist, anarchist, culturally Jewish" father – something of a shambles – in charge of the kids.

Their Christmases were memorable in their own way. Some were spent concocting new flavours of nog – bacon, shrimp and salt nog are all dished out mid-show, each as salty and sweet as the holiday itself. Others were spent in cold Ford Cortinas, staring through the windows of well-off family homes in Cardiff. Each year, to teach them Marxist theory in practice, their dad would give one sibling a great set of gifts, while the other unwrapped a bog-standard house brick. He would eventually do the same with his inheritance.

Between each chapter, the trio dip into song – most of which are fairly forgettable. A cheery celebration of booze "Bring the Bells" stands out as does a raucous and ridiculous homage to "Reindeer Sex," but otherwise, too many are clutching at seasonal straws.

They’re likeable souls, if a little Blue Petery in their upbeat delivery, and goodwill goes a long way here. The narrative’s meandering and emotionally detached, always driving towards a predictably slushy reunion and if materialism drives the siblings apart, of course the spirit of Christmas brings them back together. Thirty Christmases has little more to say than that: Christmas, for all its contradictions, is a time for togetherness.

Thirty Christmases runs at the New Diorama until 23 December.

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