Boxing Day BBQ Review

Reviewed by Jasmine Crittenden

Boxing Day BBQ, written by Australian playwright Sam O’Sullivan, transforms a family gathering into an intergenerational battle—driven by, not only strong personalities, but also strong ideologies. 

The day begins as so many Australian Boxing Days do—in a backyard, in extreme heat, in the haze of a post-christmas Day hangover. But, two elements add intensity. One, it’s the first Boxing Day since the death of grandpa. Two, a bushfire looms. 

Into the scene comes headstrong, 20-something Jennifer (Harriet Gordon-Anderson), ready to abandon her corporate job to join an unpaid mission to save the world’s oceans—and her equally headstrong, but conservative, father, Peter (Brian Meegan). Not only does he oppose Connie on, well, nearly everything, he’s desperate to inherit grandpa’s mantle, which becomes more and more difficult as he confronts his own inadequacies.

Intensifying the tension is Peter’s sister, Connie (Danielle Carter), who is in striking agreement with Jennifer, and Connie’s husband, Morris (Jamie Oxenbould), from whom she recently separated.

Then, there’s Peter’s second wife, Val (Aileen Huynh). The two are happily married, but Val has some radical ideas of her own.

As at so many family gatherings, the ideal of spending time together harmoniously is excruciatingly out of grasp. Just as one conflict seems to have settled, another arises. Personal struggles to understand one another explode into heated (and often humorous) debates about hierarchy, nihilism, climate change, and whether the Earth is flat—in between games of bocce, barbecue breakdowns, and Morris’s attempts to reattract bees to his background hive. 

O’Sullivan’s writing is at its strongest when it highlights the characters’ unique strengths and vulnerabilities, and the mutual stubbornness and blind spots that cause relationships to breakdown. There are some particularly moving scenes between Peter and Jennifer, when each character’s desire to be right tips over into the desire simply to hurt.

Director Mark Kilmurry handles the play’s deft shifts between comedy and tragedy with great skill.

Enhancing his work is Ailsa Paterson’s fittingly suburban take on the back yard, including fake turf, sliding screen door, and outdoor furniture. Completing the picture is David Grigg’s sound design, which draws on the great Australian summer soundtrack—the Boxing Day test match—and Matt Cox’s lighting, particularly effective in its evocation of an increasingly threatening bushfire.

Boxing Day BBQ, now making its world premiere at the Ensemble Theatre, is a fun, fast-paced take on a great Australian family tradition. O’Sullivan’s previous plays include You’re Not Special, Charlie Pilgrim, The Wind in the Underground, and The Block Universe (Or So It Goes).