In 2011 Aaron Malkin and Alastair Knowles struck comedy gold.
The Vancouver-based performance duo created a 10-minute skit based around two British characters they had invented named James and Jamesy. When they brought their characters to the stage as part of a cabaret show, the audience response was unlike anything they had experienced before.
“There were some people in the audience who have a lot of experience whose opinion we quite respected and one of them in particular said, ‘You’ve got gold here. You can mine it if you want,’ as in, ‘Take theses guys as far as you can go, because they’re wonderful,’” said Malkin, who plays James.
Since then Malkin and Knowles have since written five James and Jamesy shows including their Christmas production, O Christmas Tea, which is coming to the Port Theatre on Thursday Dec. 21.
In the show the world becomes submerged in tea and James and Jamesy and the audience are “vaulted … into an epic Christmas adventure” as they work together to resolve the dilemma and make their way back to Jamesy’s living room. Some audience members are also invited to participate as characters themselves.
O Christmas Tree started off as an adaptation of an existing production, but was modified to suit the Christmas season. Malkin and Knowles have been performing the show for the past three years, but every fall they ask themselves, “How can it be more thoroughly a Christmas show?”
“We’ve been in the studio with our director and co-creator … for the last few months looking for ways of making moments more poignant,” Malkin said.
“How can we enhance the show in the large theatres we’re playing in with projections with lighting and sound design and also just ongoingly questioning what’s at the heart of it and how can everything that we’re doing reinforce that?”
Malkin said their characters’ versatility and reusability comes down to their chemistry. He said while comedy duos tend to have “a high-status and a low-status character” James and Jamesy are able to complement each other on even footing.
“I never look down on Jamesy, he never looks down on me and we’re ongoingly trying to understand each other and get into each other’s worlds and there’s a safety in that and a comfort in that,” Malkin said.
“That also helps the audience feel comfortable to participate in the shows. If there were a fall man then an audience member might be reluctant to participate because they’d assume that they might be made to look foolish but … we try to have them be as much of a star as possible.”
WHAT’S ON … James and Jamesy’s O Christmas Tea: A British Comedy, comes to the Port Theatre on Thursday, Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $34 for adults, $30 for student and senior and $19 for children.