Christmas Actually (The Little Red Company)
La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre
November 27 – December 7
From the moment that Naomi Price kicks into a third time lucky ‘Love Christmas is All Around’, the toe-tapping triumph of the return season of “Christmas Actually”, is infectiously clear, to returning audience members and newbies alike. For the uninitiated, the little red company’s concert cabaret show is inspired by the soundtrack of 2003’s “Love Actually”, the ultimate bittersweet romantic comedy film from director Richard Curtis.
As such, it takes us on a musical tour of love’s twists and turns, capturing the eclectic musical spirit of the beloved rom com with a range of songs well chosen for the characters and the stories that they represent. Indeed, the show, which is written by Price and Adam Brunes, consistently captures the film’s sensibility, reminding the audience of the incredible sorrow of some of the film’s storylines, in addition to its jubilant exuberance, with help from Sam Gibb’s gorgeous lighting design.
Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ still stands as a highlight in its poignant reminder of the complexity of Emma Thompson’s relationship with her husband in the film. Price’s thoughtful vocals haunt its stark declarations with appropriately-haunting emotional havoc, ripping our hearts out with its ‘You really don’t know love at all’ realisation. Indeed, she sings the Joni Mitchell classic as though for the first time, which makes her interpretation all the more heartbreaking, but still ultimately uplifting. Price is a vocal powerhouse, whose versatility is nicely showcased across the show’s numbers. In the Sugababes ‘Too Lost in You’ she stunningly powers through the dark and dramatic melodies, while in heartfelt interpretation of Eva Cassidy’s exquisite ‘Songbird’ she effortless conveys a sense of unrushed beauty and sensitivity.
Although this is clearly Price’s show, she is never one for divadom, generously performing backup as others are given their time to shine centre-stage and encouraging individual showcase of the talents of all members of the four-piece band, Mik Easterman (drums), Scott French (guitar), OJ Newcomb (bass) and Michael Manikus (keyboard). French, in particular, layers Santana’s ‘Smooth’ with impressive, expressive instrumental rhythms.
Backup singers Stefanie Caccamo, Tom Oliver and Alex Rathgeber harmonise beautifully and each contribute much to the show’s musical character. Caccamo makes Dido’s pivotal ‘Here With Me’ a magical examination of the extremes of love and longing through her pure and plaintive vocals, Rathgeber gives us a melodic ‘God Only Knows’ by The Beach Boys and Oliver swaggers through a bluesy version of Bing Crosby’s holiday perennial ‘White Christmas’.
As required holiday season viewing the film “Love Actually” features more than just a sprinkling of seasonal songs, which is reflected in the on-stage homage. And what would a decking the halls season be without the addition of the up-tempo modern holiday standard, ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You” and a ‘who needs carols in the Domain’ memorable medley. Not only this, but Price’s sparkling audience interactions make “Christmas Actually”, the ultimate silly season starter. Her charismatic manner, quick wit and wicked sense of humour ensure that she makes the best of every opportunity for audience involvement and the inclusion of some updated royal family jokes and commentary about ‘that awful Kiera Knightly’, only add to the humour. Indeed, the show is baubles of fun, especially in Rathgeber’s best Christmas present ever recreation of the film’s iconic scene, featuring Hugh Grant’s interpretive dance around 10 Downing Street to ‘Jump’ by The Pointer Sisters.
Sometimes it is difficult to experience shows again in their return season and still feel the excitement of their initial experience. In the case of “Christmas Actually”, however, the show’s genuine sentiment and jubilant escapism, means that it still stands strong as unashamed, crowd-pleasing entertainment. This is a cracker of a Christmas show that is thoroughly entertaining in and of itself, but also serves to remind us of how, without its music, “Love Actually” would probably not work at all.
Photos c/o – Dylan Evans