James and Jamesy are to the rescue this holiday season in the adventure-packed comedy O Christmas Tea.
For the third year in a row the production will be returning to the ACT to the delight of audience members of all ages who have made the show a Christmas tradition.
“We know from the ticket sales that every year about 10 per cent of the people that came the previous year come again, which, for theatre is an amazingly high repeat rate,” said Alastair Knowles who plays Jamesy in the production.
“To think that people are coming back year after year and making O Christmas Tea their tradition is really cool,” he noted.
The story is centred around two British characters, James played by Aaron Malkin and Knowles’ character Jamesy who accidentally flood the world with tea at their Christmas get-together. The friends then leap into action as they try and keep themselves afloat in this magical land described as a combination of Monty Python, Mr. Bean and Dr. Seuss.
Each show audience members are invited on stage to take on different characters.
“What makes each show unique to us isn’t so much the show is different from one year to the next as much as it is each show is different because it relies on the audience becoming part of the show,” explained Knowles.
Knowles and Malkin are three-time winners of the Impresario Awards in London, ON, and are seasoned veterans at improvising on stage.
“I find the less I know about what is happening the more exciting it is,” said Malkin.
“If there is multiple people on the stage, we have to hold an awareness of where the focus is and who is doing what so we can find ways to integrate that into the story and the flow of the show,” Malkin explained.
“Even if something doesn’t work or doesn’t make sense, we can be honest about that with the audience, and they can enjoy the failure,” he added.
In fact, at a recent show in New York at a point in the show when there was a cue that the technician was supposed to run, the technician wasn’t in the tech booth.
“We just looked at each other wondering, this is a very important moment in the show and we don’t know how to make it happen,” said Malkin laughing.
“We incorporated what was happening into the show. And in character,” he said.
At another show Knowles spotted whom he thought was a family sitting in the audience that included a man, woman and a child.
When he invited the father on stage to be captain of the ship it turned out the father was there with his six-year-old child but had no idea who the woman was. So instead of leaving the child in the seat, they brought both on stage and invented a new character for the child.
The pair started touring James and Jamesy back in 2013.
Although it wasn’t a Christmas show back then it instantly become a hit with audiences across Canada, the United States and even in the United Kingdom.
This year Knowles and Malkin will be doing 20 shows in 17 cities across B.C. with one performance in Winnipeg and one in Bellingham, WA, starting on Dec. 1. and finishing by Christmas. They have been working on it since the summer.
Knowles and Malkin agree that what people love about the show is the charming relationship between this oddball pair of friends.
“This one friend who is a stoic example of British propriety and the other is this wonderfully wacky example of the British absurd, the unbridled imagination,” explained Knowles.
“And the two of these friends come together and where they meet is this wonderful limbo of encouraging each other to step outside of your comfort zone a little bit in order to experience a sense of unity,” he said, a sense of unity that is extended within the entire theatre at each performance.
Eventually the realized that if they made a few changes to the performance they could turn it into a Christmas show. And O Christmas Tea came to be in 2015.
“Now it is a fully integrated, high production value Christmas show,” said Malkin.
Noah’s Arc, Jaws and the Titanic are each twisted into the story-line. And everything in the show happens spontaneously, including the costumes that audience members don when they are invited onstage.
The only things visible on stage will be a table, two chairs and a candy cane.
“And then from that disco ball lights descend and confetti cannons erupt and dry ice covers the stage and creates this wonderful, magical land,” said Knowles.
“It’s going to be about fun,” he continued, adding that audience members should come with a willingness to experience something together with people they love.
Malkin says the show is unique in how well it integrates the generations.
“We’ve had an old folks home come. We’ve had a group of 6-year-olds there. To get that range of ages enjoying something together so wholeheartedly, it’s really precious to me,” he said.
What Malkin finds touching is that when people leave the show, because of the relationship of the main characters and what is experienced together in the theatre, there is a deeper appreciation of people in their lives.
“And I think how perfect is that at Christmas time when people are off work or off school, to do just that, spend time together, appreciate each other, show people that I’ve been thinking about you, that I love you,” he said.
O Christmas Tea: A British Comedy will be coming to the ACT, 11944 Haney Place, in Maple Ridge at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 6.
Tickets are $34 for adults and $19 for children 12-years and under.