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Grinches and Christmas nuts alike will enjoy this new Australian comedy
In Silent Night, there are two kinds of people: Christmas lovers and Christmas haters. North Ryde resident Anne Lickfold (Amanda Bishop) is in the middle of preparing her home for the Australian Regional Christmas Excellence Awards – or as the characters call it with blazing sincerity, ‘the arse.’ She’s determined to win this year: the life-size, blue-eyed, blond Jesus statue she’s ordered online is going to bring her whole display together.
It’s too bad that her husband Bill (Richard Sydenham) is more concerned with doomsday prepping than he is with untangling the fairy lights – how is she supposed to do this all alone?
Exempt from the pressure of helping is Rodney (Aaron Glenane), her brooding, black-nailed Satanist of an adult son who, despite being 33 years old, is treated with enabling care by Anne (and, reluctantly, Bill). But go easy on Rodney – as Anne keeps saying, “He’s in his Jesus year.”
So this Christian, xenophobic, Christmas-addled but still a bit charming family has muddled together a life of bunkers and stars of Bethlehem (with Rodney’s taxidermy studio tucked away in his bedroom), and maybe this holiday season will see them win the ARCE award. But Rodney insists that a giant truth is about to be revealed that will break their family apart; and when a mysterious stranger shows up and starts causing havoc, it looks like he might be right.
Silent Night is a dark comedy about Christmas consumption, family disharmony, and the irrelevance of affluence. Mary Rachel Brown’s script feels too much like an extended sketch to be a firm comic force, and there’s not a lot of narrative rigour, even when the story becomes more complex, introducing Michael Denkha as a fourth member of the ensemble.
But it’s still funny, tapping into contemporary anxieties about climate change, the threat of war, and overt nationalism. And uneven performances can be forgiven when the jokes are so frequent: a dud moment will be followed soon enough by a pretty successful one, and all this play wants to do is entertain, which is a pure motivation and easy to relax into, especially when its humour is raunchy but not offensive.
Hugh O’Connor’s set houses all of the drama under the Lickfold’s roof – half-covered with lights – with dated, generic art on the walls and sprinkled with Christmas decorations. An old landline on one wall is a perfect contrast for the door to Bill’s bunker on the other; this is the living room of a family at odds with itself.
Glynn Nicholas directs with relish, leaning into the humour of the script by emphasising Anne’s quirks; she’s the emotional – and comic – heart of the play, and Bishop’s take on a mum of the well-meaning but damaging suburban ilk is spot-on. She’s well-matched with Glenane’s Rodney, whose thousand-yard stare and Machiavellian grin is used to great effect in the second act (there may be a Segway involved).
If you complain that Christmas decorations are in the shops already, if you’re sick of everyone harping on about Christmas like it’s more than just a day, you’ll find plenty of chuckles here. And if you love the lights and Santas on surfboards, there are laughs for you too. And if you support burning down the current capitalist regime? It’ll get you as well. This play is good old laidback Aussie comedy: crude, dysfunctional, and secretly heart-warming; it’s a Christmas mockery play for everyone.