Review The First XXXmas by Rhys Payne

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The First XXXmas is a brand new production from the creative team behind XXXmas Carol and the Lion, the B*tch and the Wardrobe (which you can read about here) This year they decided to showcase their version of the Nativity. The cast and crew clearly have a passion for showcasing queer and local artists as each show has contained drastic changes to bring the stories into the twenty-first century. For the past three years, I have been lucky enough to experience all of the crude Christmas productions that have taken place in the Wales Millennium Centre! While the majority of the cast has stayed the same throughout, each year has been a unique perspective of some of the most well-known Christmas stories and this year is probably the most well-known story to ever exist! With the Nativity in particular there is always a certain awkwardness when religion and queerness are involved in the same sentence as there has been a documented history between these two groups so to take on the birth of Jesus Christ is a very controversial story to re- imagine.

The show opens with the sober songbird of Splott Polly Amorous welcoming the audience where she is suddenly challenged by an all-knowing being to give birth to the saviour of the world. Those who know the original Nativity story well will know that Mary experienced an immaculate conception where supposedly no sexual activity took place. This led to Polly delivering a camp performance of “Like a Virgin” by Madonna which dipped its foot into the biblical story while keeping the show camp and modern. I thought that it was absolutely incredible that this number contained an actual violin and saxophone solo (performed by the insanely talented Jenna Dyckhoff) on the stage which are not things we see in the spotlight too often. One of my favourite performances of the evening occurred in the opening of the second act of this show as Polly Amorous delivered an incredible rendition of Robbie Williams’ hit “Angels.” Not only did this song tease a Christmas motif with the titular biblical characters but the vocals themselves were out of this world! This performance truly stepped up a level when Polly continued her wonderful vocals but this time in the Welsh language and then provided lyrics so that everyone could sing along. As a proud Welshman, seeing the language literally take centre stage is amazing and I wish that more productions implemented more of this dedication to promoting the language. As well as delivering two fantastic performances, Polly also had to drive the story which included ample audience participation which is something that fills me with fear just thinking about it never mind having to facilitate it after doing everything else!

Eric McGill is one of the performers who has been a part of all three of these queer reimaginings and yet he still seems to surprise the audience every time he graces the stage. His first performance of the evening saw him take on the role of Mary/Polly’s husband Joseph but in this performance, he was portrayed as a sexy carpenter. The act began with Eric essentially strutting through the audience while carrying a massive log and giving sensuality with every step. Once on the stage, the audience was treated to a brilliant strip tease that was met with thunderous applause! The joke of this performance however was it was alluded to that Joseph is not being as faithful as everyone thinks as the recognisable Grindr notification begins blasting from his pocket. Throughout the evening Eric showcased his wince-inducing ability to force a nail and screwdriver up his noise which sent shivers around my body every time this happened. However, during the second act, Eric decided to channel a much more intense and political underpinning. Now playing the role of the dastardly King Harold, Eric began his act in a bathtub as he began covering himself in blood to represent blood being in the hands of political leaders/the loss of innocent lives caused political leaders that still happens even today. On top of his usual mesmerising aerial talents, the added layer of meaning made for a unique yet transfixing performance. I also thoroughly enjoyed the performance of “Supernova” originally sung by Kylie Minogue as it was absolutely spectacular! While Eric showcased his gravity-defying tricks, Polly and Jenna showcased their vocal talents. At one point glitter was poured from the trapeze that rained onto both the performances and the audience below. I did not know where to look as something was going on in every section of the stage which all worked together to create an extremely exciting performance!

I have to admit that I think Bumni Odumosu drew the short straw in this production as she was forced into multiple animal outfits for her performance. The first time was as a donkey which helps Mary get to Bethlehem whereas the second one was a sheep. This second outfit was absolutely hilarious as two audience members were brought onto the stage to be Shepard’s are guarding the sheep only for her to fly into the air and display her incredible aerial skills. This left the two audience members lost for words as how were they supposed to protect someone who was dangling from the air which caused fits of laughter from the audience. One of the most powerful performances of the evening came from Rahim El Habachi who is usually known for his fun and energetic belly dancing (which he did still managed to showcase) however this time he decided to go down a much more political route. Underscored by the track “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” by the Drowning Pool, Rahim delivered an incredible message about our current treatment of refugees and how Jesus himself was in fact a refugee. This background music combined with the powerful message made for an incredible act that shocked the audience into utter silence so much so that people felt unsure whether to applaud at the end due to the intense message.

Overall, the First XXXmas had the potential to become an attack on religion but instead carefully played with the story to create a politically powerful and entertaining production. The variety of acts ensured that the audience never knew what to expect next with Polly Amorous showing everyone that she is in fact the hostess with the mostest! I would rate this production 5 out of 5 stars!

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