Back by popular demand, MetroStage returns Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush for its 2018 holiday season. Written and directed by Catherine Flye, Christmas is reflective of British variety music hall entertainment from the Edwardian era. Using a series of humorous songs, dances, and skits, a troupe of merry players fill the stage with some much-needed frivolity and fun!
Scenic artist Nancy Bundy sets the stage in 1918 London at The Old Bull & Bush Public House. The Chairman (Brian O’Connor) warmly welcomes the audience and introduces the rest of the company: music hall star Miss Florrie Forde (played by the equally renowned Sherri L. Edelen), beloved regular Mr. Bertie Ramsbottom (Albert Coia), the young Mr. Percival Pennyfeather (Jimmy Mavrikes), and bar maiden Miss Daisy Mae (Katherine Riddle). Together, they perform silly sketches, share cheesy jokes, and encourage the audience to join in lively sing-a-longs (audience members are given a song sheet with included lyrics for this purpose) while Music Director Joseph Walsh accompanies them on the piano.
The cast is outstanding, displaying impressive vocal ranges and exuberant performances all around. Audience favorites include “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God,” wherein Percy attempts a dramatic dialogue while Florrie stands behind him and acts as his arms and hands–a famous comedic act that has held up over centuries. An inebriated Bertie sings “The Night That She Cried In My Beer” while clumsily slinging around his tankard, and Florrie receives the loudest laughter of all with “Nobody Loves a Fairy When She’s Forty.” While most of the songs are lighthearted and mischievous, there are moments of somber reflection with “I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier” and “Christmas in the Trenches.” This year marks the centennial of Armistice Day, and the occasion is handled with respect and gratitude.
Audience participation isn’t encouraged–it’s practically a requirement. Volunteers join the group onstage in numbers such as “Lambeth Walk” and “The Cratchit Christmas Dinner,” and the audience as a whole is incorporated in a number of ways throughout the show. Finally, those who purchase traditional Christmas crackers during intermission all get to pull them together, and for a moment the space is filled with childlike excitement as people exchange jokes, admire their trinkets, and put on their paper crowns. It’s a feeling that lingers well after the players leave the stage.
MetroStage’s Christmas at The Old Bull & Bush is spirited, effervescent, and downright silly. If this show can’t get you into the holiday spirit, then I doubt anything can!
Running Time: approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Christmas at The Old Bull & Bush plays through December 30, 2018, at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria VA. For tickets, call the MetroStage box office at (703) 548-9044.