Season’s Greetings – Review!

20
November
2016

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Season's Greetings

 



REVIEW: Season’s Greetings – Chesil Theatre 19th November 2016

It’s a grey, wet, cold winter’s evening as I write this, having just spent a thoroughly warm, convivial and entertaining evening at one of the most intimate and atmospheric theatres I have ever had the pleasure to be in.

And although the scene on stage was, at first glance, everything a warm, cosy Christmas should be in a typical English semi, under the facade all was also fairly grey, wet and cold: we quickly witnessed a traditional but dysfunctional family festive season deteriorate as underlying tensions rose to the surface to make for some hilariously awkward situations.

For that is Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s gift, to be able to create real, three-dimensional characters, complete with flawed good intent and throw them headlong into real-life situations which are at their funniest when they are also at their darkest.

Chesil have chosen an Ayckbourn classic in Season’s Greetings but made it their own. The set, depicting a hallway with front door, kitchen door and stairs off, living room and dining room (requiring a little imagination at first, to ‘see’ the imaginary walls and doorways) was created by director, Peter Liddiard, also an experienced set designer. The attention to detail carried through everything – the skillful acting, characterisation, Christmas decorations, working props, and even front of house staff who greeted us in Santa hats and jolly festive jumpers.

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A strong team of experienced actors brought this rather uncomfortable comedy to life; no weak links, no dropped lines or missed cues, delivered with a confidence that can only be achieved when they know they’ve cracked it. The start was a trifle ponderous but soon got off to a good pace, which is required to carry off this play well.

As usual with Ayckbourn plays, there is the correct mix of the ordinary and extraordinary: Neville and Belinda, the hosts (whose marriage is in great danger of disintegrating as the play progresses), various relations including a psychopathic uncle, sincere but useless brother-in-law with a penchant for putting on long, boring puppet shows, his rather pathetic alcoholic wife, a dowdy frustrated sister and Neville’s mate and ex-employee who wishes he hadn’t jumped ship, plus pregnant and ignored wife Pattie. As if this wasn’t enough, enter Clive, a writer who frustrated Belinda (and others) takes a shine to and the scene is set for sex under the Christmas tree and rampant drumming monkeys.

Hilarious, laugh out loud moments and quiet, poignant scenes nestle together beautifully. Clive goes from talented author to philandering looter overnight, and whilst all this is going on hapless Bernard is struggling to rehearse all sixteen scenes of his puppet show.

I have played one of the characters in Season’s Greetings myself and know just what a tricky piece it is to get right: timing is crucial as often there are two, or even three, separate scenes being played out simultaneously and conversations, Ayckbourn-style, overlap and cross each other. To get the timing spot on is difficult and occasionally there was the inevitable hiatus whilst one caught up with the other. But Peter Liddiard’s direction was flawless, even down to getting the actors to set and unset scenes themselves.

My one slight gripe was that the lighting was not quite right – faces were occasionally left in deep shadow, especially mid-stage, in the effort to create atmosphere. And very, very occasionally the pace could have been a bit quicker. But these are minor complaints, the whole piece being well cast, rehearsed, acted and presented.

Special mentions? Difficult because all were strong performances, but Karen Fitzsimmons as poor, frumpy Rachel and Dick Hall as the catalytic Clive who unintentionally upsets the festive apple cart shone through as being truly believable portrayals, poignantly and sympathetically played.

But this was a team effort and it showed – absolute attention to detail and a truly confident production. It may be too late to get to see this one (it’s easy to understand why this is a complete sell-out) but be sure to get your tickets quickly for Chesil’s next outing on 2nd December, an evening of Beatles’ songs performed by Hot Rabbit (proceeds in aid of the Chesil Theatre Development Appeal).

Season’s Greetings runs until November 26th.

David Cradduck

(Images by David McKibbin)