REVIEW: Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn
Ayckbourn’s bleak view of families trying to have a good time at Christmas provides humour and pathos in equal measure. A strength of Adrian Bowd’s production was that both aspects were realised. Characters were more than one dimensional caricatures serving up their funny lines; they were people we could believe in whose disappointments moved us as much as their comedy made us laugh. Tara Buchanan as Rachel achieved this perfectly. Her character’s sense of separateness and difference was touching while the comedy from her situation also hit the mark. Hosts of the Christmas gathering, Belinda (Jackie Eichler) and husband Neville (Mark Pelham) found this sweet spot as well, providing us with believable people with whom we could empathise and at the same time nailing every comic line and farcical situation. Another married couple, Pattie (Aisling Tigwell) and Eddie (Nick Cairn), were further examples of people bound together but failing to connect. Ayckbourn’s depressing observations again successfully played out through humour.
Various characters had to display the influence of alcohol on the Christmas festivities and it all looked real, even the most notably drunk, Phyliss (Jenny Lloyd-Lyons), whose inebriated cooking, board game playing and attempts at seduction provided some of the comic high notes. Her husband, Bernard (Ian Saxon), a terrible doctor and children’s entertainer, delivered a masterclass in appalling puppet shows. Very well done to whoever made the puppets and their own on-stage assembled theatre, and to Ian Saxon for staying on top of lines and acting while becoming a puppeteer.
Moving amongst the mayhem were Uncle Harvey (Michael Wilson) and Rachel’s guest, Clive (Nick Griffith), author of a lone book. Uncle Harvey’s unabashed belief in the merits of violence and the disintegrating fabric of society added to the anarchy of it all, just as Ayckbourn intended, and Nick Griffith’s Clive floated charmingly amongst the mine field of fraught emotions.
The play has a dated feel but is no less appealing because of it. The struggles of human beings to connect and stay connected remain the stuff of life. The play sets these struggles in a particular time-frame, which was supported by a super set and props, wonderful Christmas costumes and music on stage and around the theatre to build a festive atmosphere. Sell out audiences proved that we enjoy recognising the failings of the human condition and having a good laugh at the same time.