MiNDFOOD reviews: ‘Boxing Day BBQ’ by playwright Sam O’Sullivan

By Gill Canning

<em>Credit: Prudence Upton</em>
Credit: Prudence Upton
The world premiere of ‘Boxing Day BBQ’ by playwright Sam O’Sullivan is a snapshot of a family dealing with seasonal duty, personality clashes and global warming.

In the Ensemble Theatre’s Boxing Day BBQ, a group of Aussies is getting together at the old family home, as per long-standing tradition. There’s university lecturer Connie and her wine merchant brother, Peter, his daughter, Jennifer and vacuous second wife, Val. Connie and Peter’s dad, Stephen was King of the Boxing Day Barbie and Peter is stepping up to fill his shoes this year. The stage is set with the requisite hotplate, table for four, and yesterday’s coloured Christmas lights strung across the fence. The magpies are chortling and the cricket’s on.

However, as we know, families are families not through choice but through accidents of birth, and this one is no different in that there are differences of opinion, truths told, surprises sprung and expectations shattered. Wandering into the midst of this shindig is Morris, Connie’s ex-husband. He pops in, ostensibly to check whether the bees he kept at the house – recently absconded from their hive – have returned, but perhaps also because he misses being part of a family. Warmly welcomed by all, Morris insists throughout the play he is “just leaving” but to our benefit, never quite manages it.

Twentysomething Jennifer’s plan to quit her corporate job and volunteer as a photographer on a conservation ship forms the backbone of the day’s dissensions, while outside the house, bushfires coming ever nearer encapsulate the future she is trying to change.

Credit: Prudence Upton

The themes of existential threat and nihilism, consumerism and capitalism, and the role of family swirl around each other like flames before the play dips in tone and rises again, ultimately ending on a hesitantly hopeful note. One of Morris’s bees returns, while Peter asserts: “Family. We’re not like one another. We ARE one another.”

There are plenty of laughs and the cast is uniformly good. But for me, the outstanding performance was Jamie Oxenbould’s as the bumbling (no pun intended) but likeable Morris. As the action unfolded, his skilful portrayal meant his character became more and more filled out until an actual man, warts and all, emerged in front of our eyes. No mean feat in a two-hour play.

So, if you fancy a bit of holiday cheer with a sting in the tail (!) get along to Boxing Day BBQ. It delivers in spades…or perhaps, spatulas.

Boxing Day BBQ
Ensemble Theatre
Until 15 January, 2023


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