by James O’Barr
If you’re making a list of Olympia holiday season to-do’s—you know, Deck the Malls at the Olympia Film Society, the Peace Choir at the Capitol Rotunda, The Nutcracker at the Washington Center, A Christmas Carol at the State Theater—there’s one seasonal offering to put on your list that you’ll want to check twice. O Christmas Tea: A British Comedy will be coming to town for the briefest of stopovers—a Saturday matinee and evening show at the Minnaert Center main stage on November 25—on a west coast tour that starts in BC and ends in Oregon.
A British Comedy? That’s what the show’s creators, The James and Jamesy Performance Society, aka Aaron Malkin (James), Alastair Knowles (Jamesy), and director David MacMurray Smith, call it. According to Malkin, the “comedy” comes out of the antics of an unlikely duo—an everyday kind of guy (James) and a wildly eccentric one (Jamesy). What takes their comedy to another level is the friendship and affection that characterizes their onstage chemistry.
The show is also called a pantomime, which in American English usually means using gesture and movement to act out a play or a role. But in British and (apparently) Canadian English, “pantomime” references a type of popular story theatre, traditionally performed over Christmas time in the British Isles, incorporating songs, gags, slapstick comedy, and dance, with lots of audience participation and nothing about the holidays except making merry. As one Wisenheimer puts it, “Think Mamma Mia with The Three Stooges, plus audience interaction at The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Knowles and Malkin began performing together as James and Jamesy after doing clown and theatre work together in Vancouver BC. Since 2012, they have created a number of shows, won many awards, and sold-out houses in the UK, Canada, and the USA, including a 5-week run Off-Broadway at the Soho Playhouse in 2018. They brought O Christmas Tea to Olympia’s Washington Center twice, in 2019 and 2021, but had to pass on touring when pandemic was doing its worst. On the road again, 2023’s Northwest year-end tour will take them to 30 cities in BC, Washington, and Oregon.
O Christmas Tea is the third of the James and Jamesy shows in which Malkin and Knowles have made tea more than their beverage du jour. 2 for Tea was performed to sold-out houses at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017, and High Tea, in which the boys are aswim in an ocean of tea, and bring the audience along to help bail them out. Their two characters at first appear to be at odds: James believes what happens on stage is make-believe, and Jamesy believes that on-stage events are real and the audience does not exist. “Theatre is in its essence an exercise in imagination,” says Knowles, who plays the eccentric Jamesy. “O Christmas Tea is exactly that, an exercise in imagination, on steroids.” Malkin adds that each year, as the tours expand and the show develops, “The whole experience remains fresh and thrilling for audiences and ourselves. For audiences that have already made O Christmas Tea part of their traditions, there will be some surprises we look forward to sharing!”
Photos courtesy of Jill Raymond, she/her, Digital Media, Marketing and Communications.
O Christmas Tea: A British Comedy
November 25, 2023
3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
SPSCC Minnaert Center for the Arts
2011 Mottman Rd. SW; Olympia, WA 98512
$35 to $75