Dingle Bells, Malcolm Smells
St James Cavalier

How many of us have, at some point or another in primary school, belted out the corrupted Christmas song “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin ran away! Uncle Billy lost his willie on the motorway!” No? Just me? I know three others who did – in fact they turned it into the title of their Christmas show at Dingle Bells, Malcolm Smells. Going to an alternative to panto sounded good this year. And it came nicely sandwiched between the other two reviews I was going to write, which gave me a pleasant break from my usual routine.

The collaboration between three long-standing best friends, Malcolm Galea, Chris Dingli and Wesley Ellul resulted in the sort of comic mayhem one can only expect of people who are so comfortable with each other that their interaction on stage appears completely natural rather than a forced performance. The intrepid trio’s dynamic is indisputably one of the best on the island and their comedic inspiration is drawn from the wry, British and American dead-pan humour combining elements of ad-lib, improvisation and stand-up to pre-rehearsed routines.

Audience involvement included several elements of “theatresports”, which started off with Paper Chases, in which members of the audience were given scraps of paper and asked to write random sentences before the start of the show, these were then inserted as part of the script of a couple of scenes which revolved around a fairy tale also chosen by the audience. Cues were given to the audience, who yelled instructions at the three performers at specific times and changed the entire plot line and character line-up of the story according to their direction. Working in famous phrases from films like Forrest Gump and Monty Python and the Holy Grail was just as hilarious as the on-going gags about Mr Galea getting off with Mr Dingli’s first girlfriend, the real life, snap-shots of their friendship and how it influenced their performances as well as ridiculous songs like Irate Pirate and the Penis Song, sung either a capella or unplugged with just guitar accompaniment, which were equally entertaining.

Springing a task on an unsuspecting member of the audience also worked well – actress Pia Zammit was literally plucked from her seat and quickly briefed backstage on what role she was meant to play and ad-lib. It wasn’t planned and she wasn’t a plant – the genuine giggles she got as she tried to work her way out of the hot seat were enough to confirm that. Sending up different genres, from panto to film noire and mixing up performance styles as well as poking fun at themselves was the right sort of self-deprecating humour which, if done well, can have people in fits – and it did. Graphs to illustrate ridiculous points added to the hilarity of the situation, but what impressed me the most was the undeniable skill that the three had, along with cameos from Mr Galea’s wife, Angele and Ms Zammit, in working so fluidly together as a team of highly individual characters, who were in part contrived and in part presenting real aspects of their personality. It made for a very fluid performance and really impressed the audience with their spot-on comic timing.

Naturally, it helped that on the night I was watching, the audience was comprised of several theatre people or musical performers, who all knew too well how funny the situations presented could be, but were also conscious of the fact that these kinds of performances actually involve a hell of a lot of hard work, easy though they may seem. The fun of theatre was showcased in the guffaws, screeches of glee, snorts, giggles and waves of laughter that the show elicited. Dingle Bells, Malcolm Smells is certainly a show not to be missed because it offers something completely different – in a literal manner, because each show is unique to the attending audience. I had a blast of a time, and so did everybody else: What a great way to kick off the new year!

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