James & Jamesy finally had their chance to showcase their seasonal hit O Christmas Tea on home turf, and the results were seam-splittingly funny. Aaron Malkin (James) and Alastair Knowles (Jamesy) brought laughter and a significant amount of audience participation to the Kay Meek Theatre in West Vancouver December 6 and 7. Moreover, while both comedic actors were thrown production-related curveballs early in their respective evenings, it was Malkin’s loveable smile upon realising that he “split his trousers” less than 15 minutes into O Christmas Tea that had audiences in stitches.
James & Jamesy are British friends who get together once every seven days for a “tea party” in addition to professing their love of the Queen. James is a bowler hat wearing relatable straight man to Jamesy’s over-the-top at all costs eccentric who plays host to the weekly tea-drinking event. While James displays patient amusement with Jamesy’s propensity for whimsy during their scheduled socials, one can sense that he shares the audience’ befuddled curiosity as to where exactly Jamesy is coming from with his constant left of centre perspective.
The pair of friends encounters a host of adventures in O Christmas Tea, much of which includes the audience. With clever costumes designed for audience-cast members to slip in and out of James and Jamesy encounter unpredictable sounding sharks as well as an uncertain audience leader (among several other irreverent characters) throughout the production. The Kay Meek crowd is deserving of a pat on the back with their acting contribution to the unpredictably funny evening. The mixed-media usage of sound effects, video, and an impressive amount of imagination makes O Christmas Tea accessible to people of all ages. The blend of having a scripted story arch in conjunction with the unpredictability that comes with so much audience interaction keeps Malkin and Knowles constantly on their toes. Having performed the James & Jamesy characters well over 500 times in several productions, the actors confidently navigate any audience absurdity hilariously throughout the night.
Though it is easy to imagine O Christmas Tea fairing well night after night, it was two of the production’s early “mistakes” that garnered the performance both its loudest laughs and largest helping of charm. In his display of Dr Seuss-like physical-theatre, while gesticulating, Knowles accidentally pulled a piece of paper out from the table; long before Jamesy would talk James into writing a letter to Santa. In a scrambled attempt to quasi-mask the blunder both Knowles and Malkin charmingly broke character, openly having fun with the pitfalls that come with a live production. The audience would come to find out several minutes later that the piece of paper is the duo’s request of tea for the entire world, discreetly tied to a fishing line (mistakenly yanked on earlier by the animated Knowles) to facilitate being magically carried away upon signing. The second act of life occurred with Malkin, the bigger of the two men. James attempted to corral (or at least keep up with) his friend Jamesy, and in doing so significantly split his pants in the most unfortunate of regions. Conceding defeat, Malkin first admitted the laugh-inducing news of his costume’s fate followed by hilariously proceeding to model his new look to the audience. “Well, you’re going to be seeing it for the rest of the night (so I might as well show you)”. Malkin could be seen periodically looking side-stage for the next couple of minutes as if wondering if anyone could slip him some backup trousers. Malkin would eventually reach the rational conclusion that either nobody is around to help, or there were no backup pants available to the actor.
Several quips by Knowles later, James and Jamesy had successfully reigned in the entire audience who by now were gleefully along for the ride.
O Christmas Tea comes with an underlying message of acceptance, and though there is at least one reference to Prince Albert (that flies under the radar of the children in the room) the holiday-themed production is inclusive of everyone in the family. Expect an overtly Christian tone (it is in the title) to the performance when considering James and Jamesy’s holiday performance of O Christmas Tea in Maple Ridge December 22; aside from that sole disclaimer expect “hilarity.”
Click here for Vancouver Weekly’s recent interview with Aaron Malkin (James) and Alastair Knowles (Jamesy) ahead of their West Vancouver performance of O Christmas Tea.