Above – Jamie Oxenbould, Danielle Carter, Brian Meegan, Aileen Huynh, Harriet Gordon-Anderson. Cover – Brian Meegan, Aileen Huynh, Danielle Carter, Harriet Gordon-Anderson. Photos – Prudence Upton.

It’s the bees knees.

The Ensemble has given us a festive season treat, a double barrelled bon bon in Sam O’Sullivan’s Boxing Day BBQ. Double barrelled because it mixes comedy and good cheer with some serious issues, balancing both with effortless fun.

Boxing Day BBQ begins with a quote from Frank Capra’s 1947 film, It’s A Wonderful Life. It almost concludes with a scene redolent of quite a different film from that era, White Heat.

“I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again” is the opening refrain of the play and through the course of a turbulent Boxing Day, the plea bargain prevails against a bout of pessimism and takes on an optimistic poignancy.

A family has gathered to carry on the tradition of a post Christmas cookout, but the family is fractured. The elder generation has died since the last Boxing Day and Peter insists on taking on the patriarchal position persisting with the praxis.

Peter is now married to Val, a work colleague, and there is a degree of estrangement between them and Peter’s daughter, Jennifer, who is at odds with Peter’s conspicuous consumerism and Val’s Flat Earth enthusiasms.

Peter’s sister, Connie, who in his eye’s may as well be a Commie, is going through a separation with her husband, Morris, a well meaning under achiever still devoted to Connie.

And so the stage is set for situational comedy that may seem tried and true but in Mr. O’Sullivan’s script, Mark Kilmurry’s direction, and the cast’s crisp characterisations, the plot thickens not only with laughs but with moral responsibility.

Sam O’Sullivan may well be David Williamson’s heir apparent at Ensemble, his play festooned with verbal foliage, a topiary pruned by topical shears that never let the branches sag with mere gags, instead shaping the story with sharp observation and an inquisitive wit. 

The use of cricket commentators calling the Boxing Day Test on the radio becoming a chorus commentating on Peter’s performance towards the end of the play is a triumph of theatricality as is the extension of playfulness when the hive of activity takes off on an unexpected and very funny flight of fancy.

Boxing Day BBQ is comedy of surprise and suspense, despair and delight, and, yes, comfort and joy.

The cast is impeccable. Danielle Carter as Connie, Aileen Huynh as Val, Harriet Gordon-Anderson as Jennifer, Brian Meegan as Peter, and Jamie Oxenbould as Morris, a quintet of quality that is effervescent with casting chemistry.

Ailsa Paterson’s set design brilliantly evokes the Australian back yard complete with barbie, decking, sliding screen door and space for lawn games. Matt Cox’s lighting design is chillingly evocative of those bushfire bruised hues harking on the fuliginous and David Grigg’s sound design is Aussie summer atmos to a T.

We, all of us, have to be somewhere every moment. It is our dull duty. Best make that somewhere in a seat at Boxing Day BBQ soon. You’ll enjoy every never a dull moment.

Event details

Ensemble Theatre presents
Boxing Day BBQ
by Sam O’Sullivan

Director Mark Kilmurry

Venue: Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli NSW
Dates: 5 December 2022 – 15 January 2023
Tickets: $80 – $38
Bookings: www.ensemble.com.au

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