Catherine Tate, Mark Gatiss, David Troughton, Nicola Walker, Oliver Chris, Katherine Parkinson, Jenna Russell, Neil Stuke, Marc Wootton
Alan Ayckbourn once explained to his agent Peggy Ramsay how ďChristmas was
a gift to a dramatist. Youíre always looking for a reason to stick a group of people
together who canít stand each other, arenít you?Ē|
So, as a playwright famed for dissecting the dysfunctional relationships of
middle-class, suburban couples itís not surprising that several of his plays are
set at Yuletide when, trapped together for several days in enforced merriment,
the simmering tensions of daily domestic life come to the boil in dramatic style.
Ayckbournís 1980 black comedy Seasonís Greetings is one of his very best
plays, here given the well-rounded, ensemble production it deserves.
Neville and Belinda are hosting Christmas for family and friends, but as he
prefers to play around with gizmos, she is left to do the organizing, in a now
passionless marriage. Nevilleís mate Eddie is equally immature, neglecting his
wife Pattie pregnant with their fourth child. Nevilleís sister Phyllis and her husband
Bernard, in contrast, are unhappily childless, as she turns to drink and he bores
children to death with his dire puppet show.
Meantime, on-the-shelf Rachel is desperately hoping that recently divorced
novelist Clive will be the one, though he seems more interested in her sister Belinda.
And Nevilleís Uncle Harvey, a retired security guard who watches violent films on
TV and buys the kids guns for presents, is just about ready to explode.
Ayckbourn has rarely been funnier or more painful, often at the same time. His
genius is to show how peopleís happiness quietly slips away in mundane absurdity,
while entertaining us hugely within a perfectly structured play. As so often in his
works, the female characters are more sympathetic then the males. Itís also a nice
touch that, although frequently alluded to, we never see any of the children, as none of
the adults on stage have fully grown up themselves.
Marianne Elliott has wisely decided not to update the play, with its references to
technologies of the time, but concentrates on creating a beautifully realized scenario
of ridiculous relations and recognizable rituals. Rae Smithís impressively detailed
three-floor set carefully demarcates the various parts of the house, each of which in
classic Ayckbourn style represents certain aspects of the tightly knit story.
The cast is uniformly strong. Neil Stukeís self-centredly geeky Neville and
Catherine Tateís bossily house-proud Belinda live separate lives under the same roof.
Marc Woottonís slobbish Eddie is hen-pecked by Katherine Parkinsonís frustrated
Pattie, while Mark Gatissís primly repressed Bernard is despised by Jenna Russellís
raucously clumsy Phyllis. Nicola Walkerís Rachel is nervously needy, and Oliver
Chrisís Clive manages to upset everyone with his inept niceness. Finally, for David
Troughtonís belligerent buffoon Harvey fantasy and reality eventually collide in
If you are looking for a tarter alternative to the usual sugar-plum Christmas
shows, this excellent revival of Seasonís Greetings should satisfy.
For more theatre reviews, come and visit us at Exeunt
Antonioni Project, Barbican
Du Goudron et des Plumes, Barbican
King Lear, Roundhouse
Double Falsehood, Union
Twisted Tales, Lyric Hammersmith
Less Than Kind, Jermyn Street