Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush
MetroStage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Second City Presents: Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains), Twelfth Night, Annie, and Crazy for You


Joseph Walsh (at piano), Brian O'Connor, Alex Keen,
Albert Coia, Tracey Stephens, Peter Boyer,
Katherine Riddle, and Bob McDonald

Photo by Chris Banks
Sometimes when family members get together for Christmas, they get a little rowdy and tell bad jokes and sing slightly off-color songs—and these are also trademarks of the English music hall, a tradition that has been transplanted to MetroStage in Alexandria, Virginia, in high style with Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush.

The Old Bull and Bush is a real historic pub in the Hampstead neighborhood of London, which became famous when music hall star Florrie Forde performed a song that referenced it in 1904. Catherine Flye, author and director, originally presented this show at Washington's Arena Stage from 1997-2003 and brings it back with some of the original performers.

The cultural immersion begins in the theater's lobby, which houses a pop-up pub open before the show and at intermission. In addition to alcoholic beverages, the menu includes such British snacks as mince pies, sausage rolls, and prawn cocktail-flavored crisps (or potato chips, as they're known on this side of the pond).

The music hall was the rough English equivalent of vaudeville, with acts ranging from the ridiculous to the sentimental, and a heavy dose of audience participation. In other words, the up-for-everything cast does a little of this and a little of that, with almost continuous accompaniment by pianist and music director Joseph Walsh.

Highlights on the silly side: Albert Coia, a sparkplug in a loud plaid suit (costumes designed by Michael Sharp) in his two solos, "Me Little Yo-Yo" and "The Night I Appeared as Macbeth," and a bit where he plays a ventriloquist's dummy; Flye as a bedraggled fairy from the English pantomime tradition and, as stage monologist Joyce Grenfell, playing a nursery school teacher doing her best to keep the children's Nativity play from falling apart; and Tracey Stephens as Forde, vamping through "Please Don't Touch My Plums."

On the more serious side, Bob McDonald recounts the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when British and German troops in France laid down their arms and embraced their opponents on the first Christmas Day during World War I, with the song "Christmas in the Trenches." He also performs Rudyard Kipling's "The Road to Mandalay" in appropriately imperial style and gives a lovely performance of "The Christmas Song," although it's not true to the period, having been written in the U.S. in the 1940s.

MetroStage
Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush
November 17th - December 24th, 2017
Written and directed by Catherine Flye
The Chairman: Brian O'Connor
Miss Florrie Forde: Tracey Stephens
Mr. George Lushwood: Bob McDonald or Benjamin Pattison
Mr. Bertie Ramsbottom: Albert Coia
Mr. Charles Archibald Potts: Peter Boyer
Miss Daisy May: Katherine Riddle
Maestro Peabody: Joseph Walsh
And featuring Catherine Flye as Miss Joyce Grenfell
Music direction by Joseph Walsh
1201 N. Royal St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
Ticket Information: 703-548-9044 or www.metrostage.org


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