Emily McLean enjoys a festive final night of term with Durham Improvised Musical’s Christmas show, DIM Dong Merrily on High.
Despite a few naughty jokes here and there, it’s clear that Durham Improvised Musical are on the nice list this year.
Upon entering the Music Department Concert Hall, I was greeted by an elf (Finola Southgate) ushering me inside, proffering mince pies, mulled apple juice, and a seat on Santa’s lap (played by Rhys Rodrigues). This tongue-in-cheek introduction to DIM’s festive show set the tone for the rest of the evening.
The lights went down and the troupe entered singing ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’, holding a string of fairy lights with which they trimmed the (sad-looking) Christmas tree. The stage was strewn with brussels sprouts as the cast took their places and asked the audience to provide them with some festive inspiration. The location chosen was ‘inside the turkey’, met with scepticism from the cast and glee from the audience. The title was ‘Mistle-tone Deaf’ (suggested by yours truly), and the title of one of the songs was ‘Escaping Santa’s Sweatshop’.
With this settled, the show began with a tableau of the scene inside the turkey – the cast members took on abstract shapes, waiting for someone to begin the musical. This was taken on by Southgate, who slunk to centre stage with a grimace and introduced herself as… a giblet. Here was our villain. She and Parsnip (Sam Baumal) plotted the downfall of everyone’s favourite Christmas treat, the pigs-in-blankets. Southgate and Baumal took a moment to settle into the song, accidentally overlapping with each other as they sang. This is the kind of hilarious cock-up you (hopefully) only get with improv, and immediately endeared the performers to their audience. Giblet and Parsnip decided that the pigs-in-blankets must be burnt.
Newcomer Ralph Skan and old-timer Elle Morgan-Williams were next up, with Skan playing a self-loathing sprout named Bruce, and Morgan-Williams portraying a self-important pig-in-a-blanket named Piglety Blankety. In true DIM style, this unlikely pairing quickly fell in love, bonding over the fact that they both have multiple layers.
Next to take to the stage were Barney Mercer and Hal Lockwood as incompetent elves trying to make Santa’s Christmas dinner. Disasters of epic proportions scuppered their plans – the carrots were meant to be in five minutes ago! – and soon enough Santa him/herself appeared in the form of Rosie Dart. Dart’s rhyming ability is astounding, and it really shone in this particular scene, as she berated her silly elves and warned them of what Mrs Claus might do to them if they messed up. Unfortunately for them, the elves revealed that they couldn’t read, hence the confusion with the detailed schedule that Santa had stuck to the fridge door for them.
Much was packed in the hour-long show, from Giblet trying to lure Bruce the Sprout away from Piglety Blankety (fortunately he didn’t give in to the villainous offal, who was greasy on more levels than one), to a duet between Santa and Mrs Claus (also played by Sam Baumal, who seemed to struggle at singing in a more feminine key, and realised out loud that he had come on acting considerably older than Dart’s sprightly Santa). Dastardly Giblet tricked the clueless elves into burning the Christmas dinner to vanquish her rival, Piglety Blankety, but naturally she was thwarted. Both Piglety and Bruce escaped the open and, revived by a helping of some instant gravy, lived happily ever after.
Credit must be given to technical director Helena Trebichavska, whose quick and witty lighting changes inspired outbursts of laughter from audience and cast alike. When Parsnip and Giblet decided that pigs-in-blankets must burn, the lighting was quickly switched to a deep red, while any time brussels sprouts were mentioned, the stage was lit up in bright green.
As with any improvised show, there is a danger of the content dragging at times, and DIM is no exception. At points it was clear that the actors were struggling with how to move on. Every time this happened, though, the slump was over within a moment. This is the advantage of having so many talented performers in the troupe; Baumal got over a particularly sticky spot by bringing the musical back to the title, explaining that as the food continues to cook, their musicality begins to suffer, and they all become ‘tone deaf’. A hilarious sequence ensued in which Piglety, Parsnip, and Bruce all struggled to hold a note, singing off-key to the delight of the audience.
The show was cut abruptly short by ‘Mrs Claus’ dragging her chair to the front of the stage and announcing that it was over, to the amusement of the audience. Mrs Claus explained that everyone lived happily ever after, except Parsnip and Giblet, who were incinerated when everyone forgot to turn the oven off.
Another happy ending!
Merry DIM-mas to all, and to all a good night.