An interactive “O Christmas Tea” show coming to Surrey is billed as a “British comedy” starring James and Jamesy.
Turns out, performers Aaron Malkin and Alastair Knowles met in Vancouver and created the characters there close to a decade ago.
Malkin (who plays James, “the taller, less-hirsute half,” a bio notes) now lives on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, while Knowles (Jamesy, “the eccentric half”) has returned to his old stomping grounds in Winnipeg.
Together, they’re touring “O Christmas Tea” to theatres in two dozen cities in November and December, including Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre for an evening show on Sunday, Dec. 12.
In a conference call, the two actors sounded thrilled to perform again following a 20-month hiatus caused by the pandemic, with rehearsals for the current tour done both in-person and online.
“A year ago,” Malkin said, “I was afraid that maybe I’d never do this again.”
Quipped Knowles: “I was afraid of, ‘What if I never want to do this again?’” he said with a snicker.
First performed at Surrey’s Bell theatre in December of 2019, “O Christmas Tea” is marketed as “a rollicking holiday spectacular that’s ideal for fans of Monty Python, Mr. Bean, and Dr. Seuss.”
As the world floods with tea, James and Jamesy must find ways to keep themselves afloat as they try to make their way back home.
“We have such an eclectic mix of skills, Alastair and I,” Malkin asserted. “It’s a physical-comedy that invites the audience to join us in the creation of the show,” which was first performed six or seven years ago.
It’s immersive theatre, for sure, with wordplay, comic physicality and interactive elements that borrow from classic British pantomimes.
“It started out really small,” Knowles recalled. “Like, our whole set was just a table and two chairs, and a tea set. And then, as we started to develop the show and expand it, now our table, chairs and tea set, that’s all accompanied by a cargo van full of special effects that we bring to the show. So now while the stage is still relatively bare, the whole space is transformed numerous times during the show, to really throw people into our world of imagination.”
Malkin said he likes to boast that they have four different kinds of snow and five kinds of fog, along with cannons used in the show.
“I don’t know,” he sighed, “we’re just big kids who get to play with this stuff.”
Back in 2012, their James and Jamesy characters first came to life in an East Vancouver warehouse space, “on impulse,” Knowles explained.
“We did a cabaret show shortly thereafter. After that, two theatre professionals we really respect, they both kind of said, ‘You’ve got gold, you should mine it.’ We said OK, we have these characters, let’s see how far we can run with it, with them.”
Now, they’re touring to relatively large theatres across B.C. and the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s going to be bumping this year,” Knowles said in mid-November. “At this point we have almost the same number of tickets bought by people as we did for the last show (in Surrey), and we still have almost a month to sell tickets, a few weeks.”
Tickets for the family-friendly, 90-minute show are priced from $24 to $44 on bellperformingartscentre.com, or call 604-507-6355.
Other James and Jamesy shows include “In the Dark,” “2 For Tea” and “Thunderfoot.” Online, check out the duo on jamesandjamesy.com, which includes a promo video for “O Christmas Tea.”