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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Theatre review: Merry Kissmas is a royally entertaining romantic romp

Vancouver Theatresports takes risks that pay off, often with hilarious consequences

Merry Kissmas – A Royal Romance is an improvised Christmastime spoof about royalty and romance. It boasts an ensemble of well over forty – but only five of them perform on any given date. They alternate, in different permutations, throughout the run of this jolly holiday extravaganza. That means it’s possible to attend every performance of Merry Kissmas until the end of its run on Christmas Eve and see a different show every time.

There is a basic core premise, in line with the Italian theatre tradition of Comedia del Arte. The loosely-knit story-line involves a royal and a commoner who fall in love. After overcoming several pitfalls, the couple eventually marries and lives happily ever after. One of the pitfalls they encountered on opening night was a former match between a Prince and a hopeful Princess Bride, Bianca. Those involved improvised the rest of the story to flesh out these bare bones, often with hilarious consequences.

The action takes place in the remote snowy village of Provdovia, spelled out by its Prince, “P-R-O-V-dovia.”

However, that name might change with each performance. The press release calls the town Improvanzia. But who cares? Anything and everything is possible when a bunch of fearless clowns get together.

On opening night, the first half of the show focused on the everyday habits and hobbies of Provdovians, fuelled by suggestions from the audience. While various improv-games entertained, they didn’t contribute to even a minimalist through-line and began to pall by Intermission. For instance, the actors could have tied the first half to the second by referring, either in person or by allusion, to the scheming Bianca. Just a word from the ever-over-excited Celebrity Wedding Planner played consummately by Margaret Nyfors, would have done. But then, perhaps the character of Bianca hadn’t been conceived until the second half. Who knows?

Nyfors is credited with co-directing this tongue-in-cheek parody, with Nathan Clark. She also co-created the concept of the show, with Sarah Perretto.

The other improvisers on opening night kept the pace going with zany expertise. Graeme Duffy, in particular, never missed a chance to leap into the action, sometimes literally.

The improvisers are joined at each performance by a different audience member, who plays an integral part in the story. That’s when the show really takes off. The element of danger when no one is certain of what someone else will say or do keeps both the players and audience on their toes. Let alone the volunteer. Much depends on the person who has put his or her name forward during Intermission, to join those on stage. It’s great fun.

The ‘plot’, such as it is (or isn’t), is enhanced by set designer Mo Sherwood’s painted backcloth of snowy mountains, peaked roofs and pine trees. As if that isn’t enough, a giant TV screen presents various fast-paced collages to augment comedic points. Blackouts are used to punctuate the action, and sound effects, created by one of a backstage team of ‘technical improvisers,’ add to the comedy mix. It all works like a well-oiled machine. And if a spanner gets caught in the works, the performers make a joke out of it.

Merry Kissmas is a royally entertaining, romantic romp. All ages, from eight years old upwards, will leave this Vancouver Theatresports production, prepared to live happily ever after, or at least until December 24.

It just depends on which performance they attend.

Merry Kissmas – A Royal Romance by Margaret Nyfors and Sarah Perretto. Directed by Margaret Nyfors and Margaret Nyfors. A Vancouver TheatreSports production. On stage at The Improv Centre on Granville Island (1502 Duranleau St, Vancouver) until December 24. Visit for tickets and information.

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