Christmas means coming together – especially for musicians. John and Yoko. Bing and Bowie. Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé. The New Diorama has a special duet of its own this year, as musical comedians Jonny and the Baptists and Rachel Parris join forces to deliver the theatrical equivalent of a novelty Christmas album.
But the thing about Christmas albums is that they tend to be a bit thrown-together – intriguing enough to pick up, insubstantial enough to put down again – and Thirty Christmases is indeed more stocking filler than considered gift. Mixing storytelling with a sprinkle of spoofish seasonal songs, it aims to capture Christmas in all its glorious ambivalence: good will and bad. It's a show that knows there are white Christmases and black ones; that the most wonderful time of the year can also be the most miserable. One person's cynical consumerist free-for-all is another's sentimental family time. Every Christmas has its own character.
That's why they chart a lifetime of them – not quite the promised 30, but near enough – to unfold the story of an estranged brother and sister. Jonny Donahoe and Rachel Parris play the siblings of a single-parent family, reunited after a decade apart by their best friend Paddy Gervers (as in ‘The Baptists'). Their mother walked out on them for a well-off Welsh accountant, leaving their "socialist, anarchist, culturally Jewish" father – something of a shambles – in charge of the kids.
Their Christmases were memorable in their own way. Some were spent concocting new flavours of nog – bacon, shrimp and salt nog are all dished out mid-show, each as salty and sweet as the holiday itself. Others were spent in cold Ford Cortinas, staring through the windows of well-off family homes in Cardiff. Each year, to teach them Marxist theory in practice, their dad would give one sibling a great set of gifts, while the other unwrapped a bog-standard house brick. He would eventually do the same with his inheritance.
Between each chapter, the trio dip into song – most of which are fairly forgettable. A cheery celebration of booze "Bring the Bells" stands out as does a raucous and ridiculous homage to "Reindeer Sex," but otherwise, too many are clutching at seasonal straws.
They're likeable souls, if a little Blue Petery in their upbeat delivery, and goodwill goes a long way here. The narrative's meandering and emotionally detached, always driving towards a predictably slushy reunion and if materialism drives the siblings apart, of course the spirit of Christmas brings them back together. Thirty Christmases has little more to say than that: Christmas, for all its contradictions, is a time for togetherness.