CHRISTMAS SHOPPING Premiered Westfield Riccarton Mall, December 2005 Toured to Palms Mall, Northlands Mall, Eastgate Mall Production Credits
The Free Theatre Christchurch production of Christmas Shopping set out to test, in the context of Christchurch, the political and theatrical strategies of New York performance artist Reverend Billy, a subject of Ryan Reynolds’ thesis on “political theatre in a post-political age”: "The targets in Christchurch are different to those in Manhattan. Accordingly, we had to relocate his tactics to target capital and capitalist logic here. Changing targets – in terms of target locations and target audiences – then dictated that we adapt his tactics the better to attack these targets. Our performance, in the end, bore clear similarities to Rev. Billy’s theatre, but also differed significantly: the performance was a hybrid.
In the weeks before Christmas 2004, the Free Theatre members posed as a Christian school called Old Queen’s College – with a rector, a choirmaster, and a five-girl school choir – and gave “Christian” choir performances inside the major shopping malls of Christchurch. As with Rev. Billy’s work, a description of this performance makes it sound parodic and would warrant analysis in terms of Jameson’s theory of pastiche. But Christmas Shopping seemed to refuse parody or pastiche in a couple of ways. Where Rev. Billy was ostensibly parodic via a conflict between his right-wing form and his left-wing rhetoric, Old Queen’s College tried to take the content of Christianity seriously as well as use a Christian form. In other words, we tried to use “genuine” Christian morality as the basis for a radical political theatre. The aesthetic of this performance lifted it from the ironic parody it may appear to be into a potentially radical action that may have undermined the seeming inevitability of capitalism. This action was generally “misunderstood” by audiences. It is conceivable, however, that the apparent failure of this action was a sign of its success – that in an arguably post-political age, political actions will not be recognised as such."