Behind the Bells

Jingle Bells Sucks Baubles (Astra Nova Youth Creatives)

Ad Astra

December 8 – 20

Thanks to John Birmingham et al, Queensland has a tradition of share house tales, meaning that experience of on-stage stories like Astra Nova Youth Creative’s “Jingle Bells Sucks Baubles” brings an instinctive comfort. The show, which is performed and commissioned as part of Astra Nova Youth Creatives, revisits 2019’s share-house story of Max, Dani, Jayden, Tristan and Andre, with an update of how the Paddington housemates and their friends are faring after a year of people moving in, out and sideways.

Like living in a share house is not complicated enough, however, the story again takes place in this festive season and Christmas is horrific in a way worse even than Australia Day… in fact it sucks baubles, especially in this COVID-19 year of border closures and restricted travel to families. Add in the wedding between youngest group member, social media micro-influencer Dani (Aliandra Calibrese) and her fallen-on-his-feet financial planner fiancé Keenan (Owen Green), and you have stage set for comedy.

It is a crowded house, both on stage and in the stalls with many audience members returning to revisit 2019’s show and it is easy to appreciate why so much of its season is sold out, given the comic timing that positions the show’s fun. Even those new to the characters and stories can still walk away rewarded by memorable performances from across the cast.

With housemates past and present and also some unseen-but-mentioned characters, it’s a sizeable who’s who across which to track relationships, however, these are soon easy enough to follow. Stereotypes set up some automatic conflict beyond just fights over consumption of each other’s fridge food. Laser-focussed personal trainer Cameron (Hayden Parsons) is always operating at 110% which aggravates an impatient Jayden (Jarvis Taylor) who just wants to get high and play COD in his living room. And against the hyperbolic shoutiness of some Act One performances, Taylor gives us some good light and shade moments allowing for Jayden’s delivery of many of the show’s funniest lines, especially in response to keen-for-a-cause (and an argument), but also kind of ignorant newest house member Cass (Bronte Price).

In some ways things settle in ActTwo as we all head to Dani and Keenan’s wedding rehearsal, especially as best man Andre (Mitchell Bourke) takes over the microphone for some very funny emcee commentary. All-over-the-place Woolies worker Andre is a man of many ideas but few concrete plans, much to the frustration of will-they-or-won’t-they friend from uni Jessie (Caitlyn Leo), who just hopes he can sort himself out. Though she has her own issues, trying to reconcile her passion and her career path, it is long-time household member Maxine (Lara Rix) who speaks the most sense, especially in a standout scene featuring passive-aggressive conversation with Dani about social media and influences.

As complement to the performances, the production conveys a clear attention to detail. Simple props establish a lived-in feel to the share-house thanks to bookshelved bongo drums, Cards Against Humanity and even a ‘do the dishes’ reminder amongst photos and post-it note insults on the fridge. And the set transforms easily to scenes at The Creek establishment where some of the housemates work, only adding to their complications.

The new work by Pierce Gordon is well written, especially in its inclusion of COVID-19 complications into the narrative, but also in its meta-theatre mention, meaning that even if audience members are not of the on-stage demographic themselves, they can appreciate the chaos behind the scenes of the yuletide bells and baubles. Perfect for the holiday season, “Jingle Bells Sucks Baubles” is a light-hearted comedy that reflects how our lives are forever changing and the ways we cope with that change. While its story includes weddings, break-ups, career changes and unexpected surprises, these are all wrapped up in a hopeful and therefore ultimately heart-felt ending.