Interview: Sam O’Sullivan, writer of Boxing Day BBQ at Ensemble Theatre

Ensemble Theatre currently have two festive shows running, A Christmas Carol, and the new comedy, Boxing Day BBQ by Sam O’Sullivan.

“It’s Sydney. It’s Boxing Day.  And it’s stinking hot. Grandad Stephen was the family’s BBQ king and his adult children have gathered to honour his memory.

Wine snob Peter and cynical Connie reluctantly get the clan together for round two of festivities – they’ve survived the chaos of Christmas but Boxing Day is set to pack a punch. In raising a toast to Stephen’s memory, old grudges and family tensions sizzle to the surface. Surely they’ll be able to stop grilling each other for one day.”

Sam was kind enough to take some questions about his new play and what it’s like being an unofficial double-bill with Charles Dickens.

Sam O'Sullivan, writer of Boxing Day BBQ at Ensemble Theatre
Sam O’Sullivan

The CROC: To kick off, tell me about your new play Boxing Day BBQ – what’s going on, what’s the set up?

A family gather for their annual Boxing Day BBQ but this one is a little different. Their grandfather used to run things – it was his big day – but this year is the first one since he passed. That’s left a bit of a vacuum and questions are hanging over how the day is going to run, who is invited and whether the tradition should even be observed anymore. Plus Jennifer, the youngest member of the family, has some big news… 

Boxing Day BBQ trailer

CROC: The holidays tend to bring up lots of emotions, what makes Boxing Day different to Christmas Day or Christmas Eve?

When Mark [Kilmurry – director of Boxing Day BBQ and Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre] and I started talking about this play, we loved the idea that Boxing Day is usually one celebration too many. You’ve done all the end of year work functions, you’ve survived multiple Christmas events and by the time Boxing Day comes around, you’re just a little bit raw and emotional. It’s a day that is best spent on a comfy couch with a good book but not everyone can be that lucky.

CROC: Christmas in Australia is very weird when you think about it. Most of our traditions come from the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. What are some uniquely Australian traditions?

First I think the important thing is just to acknowledge that it is different. I don’t know what a uniquely Australian Christmas looks like but I do know it’s not snow men and roasted chestnuts. I also think (and I doubt that I’m alone in this) that we need to take the pressure off ourselves when it comes to Christmas. Even the northern hemisphere traditions aren’t actually based on anything. It’s up to each individual family to decide how they want to celebrate and what traditions they want to observe or even create.

Boxing Day BBQ Rehearsals. Photo: Prudence Upton

CROC: Family tensions are at the heart of Boxing Day BBQ. Have you modelled your characters off your own family & friends? Who’s the wine-snob in real life? 

My family are going to have a hard time believing that I didn’t model any of the characters on them. I even have a brother named Peter who is a wine maker! But the main inspiration for the characters actually came from the actors playing them. I’ve worked with most of the cast before so I wrote specifically for them.  

CROC: As a writer and an actor I imagine there is a pressure to write a part for yourself – is there a role here for you? Are you actually Peter?

I still haven’t felt the need to act in something I’ve written. Maybe one day, but it feels like a lot of attention. I also act out the roles in my kitchen when I’m writing so I get my acting fix that way.

Boxing Day BBQ Rehearsals. Photo: Prudence Upton

CROC: Are you the kind of guy who runs the BBQ yourself, or are you more likely to be sitting back and letting others do the cooking? Got any BBQ tips of your own?

My family is full of excellent cooks, especially my Dad, so I’m likely to take a backseat when it comes to the barbeque. But if you need someone to open some dips, I’m your guy.

CROC: Okay, it’s Boxing Day 2022 (the date, not the play). I’ve got gifts I think are a bit rubbish… what do I do? Charity shop? Facebook Marketplace? Ask for a receipt? 

You pretend to love it. You pretend like your life depends on it.

Boxing Day BBQ Rehearsals. Photo: Prudence Upton

CROC: You’ve been writing quite consistently for the last few years, how do you see your own writing changing? You’ve chosen a variety of contemporary topics for your plays so far, are you noticing any themes you return to?

I can see a few themes returning in my work – the nature of time, human evolution, the grand scale of the Universe. I don’t set out to include them but they usually sneak in somehow. One of the great things about writing is that you get to wrestle with yourself and figure out where you sit on particular topics. Sometimes you even surprise yourself when a character comes out with something you didn’t expect them to.  

CROC: Boxing Day BBQ is running at the same time as A Christmas Carol at Ensemble. The team there must feel like they’re in some form of Festive time-loop. Do you feel any pressure going up against Charles Dickens? Would you recommend the two shows as a double bill?

Without giving too much away, we have very much lent into being on at the same time as A Christmas Carol. It’s an iconic tale that you can’t avoid comparisons to if you’re going to tell a Christmas story. People should definitely see both!

Boxing Day BBQ Rehearsals. Photo: Prudence Upton

A massive thank you to Sam O’Sullivan for taking the time to chat. Boxing Day BBQ runs at Ensemble Theatre till Jan 15, 2023. Full review coming soon.





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