Actually again

Christmas Actually (The Little Red Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

November 27 – December 7

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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

Silly season spirit

Christmas Actually (The Little Red Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

December 5 – 8

As Act React’s “Love/Hate Actually” recently revealed, the Christmas-themed Richard Curtis film “Love Actually” is a contentious one. It seems that everyone has an opinion because come December time it seems that is always all around with its ten interconnected love stories told over five weeks leading up to Christmas.

As a concert cabaret show inspired by the film’s soundtrack, “Christmas Actually” begins aptly with the reappropriated ‘Love is all Around’, complete with that attempt to squeeze an extra syllable into the fourth line. It’s a somewhat slow start, but by the time the audience becomes the brass bit of ‘All You Need to Love’, it is clear that its festive spirit is going to be contagious.

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Its headliner, Naomi Price is a generous performer, allowing both band members (Mik Easterman, Scott French, Andrew Johnson, and Michael Manikus) and singers alike their own opportunities to shine in share of the film’s iconic music. In particular, fellow “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” alumnus Stefanie Caccamo haunts Dido’s ‘Here with Me’ with her lingering, vulnerable vocals. Luke Kennedy is every bit the part in Santana’s ‘Smooth’ and in Tom Oliver’s talented hands ‘White Christmas’ has never sounded better.

Meanwhile, the simple sincerity of Joni Mitchell’s serene ‘Songbird’, is a wonderful showcase of Price’s voice. Even more enthralling is her reverential and plaintive version of Mitchell’s heartbreaking ‘Both Sides Now’, echoing Emma Thompson’s beautiful play of the scene in the film and moving many in the audience to both tears and then mid-show standing ovation. The mature sounds of its bittersweet sincerity, are not only captivating, but also serve to showcase Price’s vocal versatility alongside her upbeat soar of schmaltzy sing-a-long seasonal staples like Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’.

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With “Christmas Actually” there is no need to think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport to cast any gloom aside; its joy is all around. The show is full of fun and humour, often courtesy of Price’s wicked sense of humour and quick wit in interacting with the audience and shift into seemingly surprising segues. And then of course, there is also a perfectly choreographed ‘Hugh Grant’ dance number, an energetic nativity play lobster and an on-point Carols in the Domain parody, complete with ‘appearance’ of an array of Australian musical talent.

As past experience has shown, the little red company’s shows are defined by their balance of whimsy, sentiment and comical commentary and “Christmas Actually” is no exception. The brainchild of Price and Adam Brunes is the ultimate silly-season starter, crafted to crescendo to joyous celebration of the Christmas spirit that not even the bah-humbugiest of humans can resist. And once it is over (all too soon), you will bounce out in jubilant memory of its charm, knowing that no Spotify Christmas ride-home playlist will do it justice (#wetried).

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans