MANOR PAVILION THEATRE
2 hours 30 minutes – 1 interval
Manor Pavilion Theatre Box Office – 01395 514413
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 21 NOVEMBER 2019
Alan Ayckbourn is a cruel man. His writings are pitted with stories of innocents being embroiled in other people’s feuds and broken relationships, whilst at the same time making his audience laugh out loud. It is like some kind of sadistic puppet show with the writer pulling the strings to create the excruciating circumstances and the downfall of the individual. ‘Season’s Greetings’ is a prime example of such a device – the oblivious Clive invited into a family’s Christmas celebrations only to be shunned by them all within a day and ending up,…well….
All that being said, Ayckbourn is also a master of portraying the ordinary and the mundane and elevating it into high comedy. Choosing Christmas as the background for this study of a dysfunctional family allows virtually the whole audience to recognise some (and hopefully not all) of the shenanigans that take place. This is very clever comedy; a sharply observed script which combines visual treats with near farce as the Bunker Family attempt to get from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day without completely imploding.
Claire Evans is an experienced Ayckbournian and this is made clear by her deft movement of the action around the stage, the pointing up of all the comic moments and the subtle changes of pace. The performance never flags and a very strong ensemble cast deliver on this first rate production. Alex Marker has created a wonderful set – no mean feat on the small space available, especially when you have to include two rooms, hallway, stairs and two major exits – full of well-chosen furniture and props. Excellent.
Dan March perfectly portrays the chauvinist Neville, who is obsessed with his shed whilst his marriage teeters. Eva-Jane Willis, as his wife Belinda, is strong and vulnerable by turn – she is probably the sympathetic heart of the play – a fabulous performance. Her flirting is sensual and very funny. Neville’s sister, Phyllis, allows Claire Louise Amias to offer a very convincing drunk – but not just a one-dimensional one; this is a sad and vulnerable woman. As her husband, Bernard, Jeremy Todd offers up a disappointed man – disappointed in himself and this is done very well, as is the complex performance of the puppet show which is beautifully realised. Another couple in crisis is the pregnant Pattie and her fairly useless husband Eddie; maybe these are the saddest couple and Rosie Edwards and Thomas Willshire are well-matched and spot on with their characters. Bridget Lambert is fragility personified as the unloved, Rachel; unable to find joy in anything, her attempts to communicate with new ‘boyfriend’ – the innocent guest – are rather heart-breaking and John Hastings pitches his performance as Clive perfectly. Bringing up the rear is James Pellow as Uncle Harvey – a deeply unpleasant creation – extreme in all matters, he should be totally offensive, and Ayckbourn emphasises this, by giving him all the best lines – Pellow has a field day; every insult, barb or politically incorrect comment are delivered with relish! Wonderful.
On the face of it, this is a straightforward play, but it is far from it. Structurally it gives the performers difficulties as different conversations interlock with each other and cue lines are delivered in a different ‘room’ or by an unseen television screen. It requires intense concentration and everyone is on the ball.
I must make mention of the wonderful puppet theatre and puppets created by Gwithian Evans – they are exquisite and very funny. Works of art!
Alan Ayckbourn rarely lets you down. He can make you laugh despite yourself, but there is so often a dark underbelly to his plays which stops you in your tracks. You will be unlikely to find a better production of ‘Season’s Greetings’ which is so very high in its creative content. This is an excellent cast performing one of Ayckbourn’s best – it offers plenty of Christmas cheer!
DAN MARCH – NEVILLE
EVA-JANE WILLIS – BELINDA
CLAIRE LOUISE AMIAS – PHYLLIS
JAMES PELLOW – HARVEY
JEREMY TODD – BERNARD
BRIDGET LAMBERT – RACHEL
THOMAS WILLSHIRE – EDDIE
ROSIE EDWARDS – PATTIE
JOHN HASTINGS – CLIVE
WRITER – ALAN AYCKBOURN
DIRECTOR/PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS
DESIGNER – ALEX MARKER
COSTUME – JAN HUCKLE & PHOEBE FLEETHAM
LIGHTING DESIGN – ANTHONY HILL
PUPPET & THEATRE CONSTRUCTION – GWITHIAN EVANS