O Christmas Tea: A British Comedy, Kay Meek Arts Centre, Dec. 10 and 11. For more information visit kaymeek.com.
If you have tickets to Canadian clown duo James and Jamesy’s O Christmas Tea: A British Comedy running December 10 and 11 at Kay Meek Centre, expect opportunities for a little audience participation.
Throughout the comedy, which is touring North America for its third season and quickly becoming a Christmas classic, audience members are encouraged to interact with the comedians – and with one another.
Alastair Knowles, who plays Jamesy, says attendees shouldn’t be surprised if they find themselves donning costumes, dancing with the person sitting next to them, making animal noises, yelling out spontaneously or speaking gibberish. Some may have the chance to play characters onstage (think sea creatures or carollers). The best part is it all happens spontaneously –and without a drop of alcohol, which isn’t served at the show.
And while Knowles admits that some theatre-goers might be turned off by the silliness, he says most embrace the opportunity to feel like a kid again.
“To get a roomful of a few hundred adults to be willing to play together is a challenging embrace but I think that’s part of the excitement, and what makes it successful. They go: ‘I can’t believe I did that,’” Knowles explains.
O Christmas Tea is the story of two British friends, James and Jamesy, who meet for a cup of tea. “All we’re doing is trying to have a tea party,” says Knowles. “But in that simple act, these tangential conversations lead us into these whimsical worlds where James is just trying to hold on to reality and the audience is trying to hold on to their reality too, until the imagination and the adventure takes over,” he says.
The Canadian comedy duo created the show in 2011 as an ode to the British comedies they grew up watching. They improvised a skit where two British characters meet. “And what do British characters do when they get together? They have tea,” says Knowles.
While Jamesy is the proper British gentleman who lives in a logical world, James is a recluse that has a wild imagination and adores the absurd. “These two characters come together and challenge each other to embrace the other’s perspective,” Knowles continues.
While the pair are both Canadian, you wouldn’t be able to tell based on their on-stage accents. “I grew up being on airplanes a lot and I watched Mr. Bean very frequently,” Knowles says in an impeccable British English. “That sort of properness and absurdity is particularly joyous. It’s very proper and yet it’s absolutely ridiculous and a lot of things in life are like that if you look at them through a certain lens. They are both perfectly logical and perfectly illogical,” says Knowles.
What sets O Christmas Tea apart from other Christmas classics, like The Nutcracker, is that it combines a mix of genres, including physical comedy and improvisation. “I think a lot of people haven’t been exposed to this kind of theatre show. You don’t watch the show from the audience like you’re watching TV. You feel like you’re there,” says Aaron Malkin, who plays James.
This is the most ambitious tour for the duo, who will be performing 20 shows in 17 cities in December. Like any good Christmas classic, audiences only seem to grow more fond of O Christmas Tea as the years pass. Since O Christmas Tea began touring in December 2015, the number and size of venues have increased. “We know from our ticket sales record that a bunch of people are repeat attendees. We’re thrilled that we have become some people’s Nutcracker,” says Knowles.
O Christmas Tea: A British Comedy runs Monday, Dec. 10 and Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7.30 p.m. at Kay Meek Centre, 1700 Mathers Avenue, West Vancouver. For tickets and showtimes, visit jamesandjamesy.com/upcoming.