by Alan Ayckbourn.
Clwyd Theatr Cymru (Anthony Hopkins Theatre) CH7 1YA To 2 November 2013.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 November.
Somewhat muffled Greetings, at its best showing real human concerns amid the comedy.
Christmas comes and brings its cheer: divorces, arguments, suicides each year. Alan Ayckbourn’s 1980 play has the mixture about right.
We go to Ayckbourn for comedy, and it often comes, as here, with dollops of recognisable anxiety and stress. Whether it’s making preparations for visitors you don’t particularly want and who don’t especially want to be visiting, or highlighting tensions within relationships, or simply giving scope for individual discontent, the greetings often end with a sigh of relief that the season’s only once a year.
Mike Britton’s brightly coloured set resembles a Christmas set, incorporating two storeys of a family residence, which, at first, looks almost like a doll’s-house.
Misleadingly. This play came immediately before one of Ayckbourn’s most sinister and threatening, Way Upstream. That’s about a boating holiday; here, in a holiday at the other end of the year, Uncle Harvey, glued to action films on TV, relives favourite violent sequences. He may be discounted as a semi-senile loner by the family, but, keeping a personal arsenal to defend family territory, he’s far from harmless.
Bernard is a contrast, appearing ever-hopeful. Harvey despises Bernard’s bland puppet show, an annual treat for the puppeteer and threat to everyone else. Ironically, Harvey’s the sole audience at a final rehearsal which reveals the underlying despair in Bernard and leads to a furious outburst beyond anything in the farcically inept Three Little Pigs Bernard’s trying to manipulate on his tiny stage.
Dominic Hecht’s Bernard sails blithely on until even he realises things are going wrong. Wyn Bowen Davies holds back on Harvey’s virulence, gaining in credibility as a member of the household parked on his own, what’s lost in comic force.
Elsewhere, the focus is on love misplaced and misery in relationships. Neither very minor poet Clive nor Rachel, who hopes to find love as well as literary fulfilment by inviting Clive for Christmas, and nearly does for him entirely, seem quite natural in Tim Baker’s revival. While Charlotte Gray gives lush, sometimes over-luxurious, comic detail as Phyllis, the best performance, combining comic definition and character depth, is Sarah Tansey’s believable, sympathetic Belinda
Neville: Darren Lawrence.
Belinda: Sarah Tansey.
Phyllis: Charlotte Gray.
Harvey: Wyn Bowen Harries.
Bernard: Dominic Hecht.
Rachel: Jenny Livsey.
Eddie: Kristian Phillips.
Pattie: Katie Elin-Salt.
Clive: Rhys Wadley.
Director: Tim Baker.
Designer: Mike Britton.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Matthew Williams.
Composer: Dyfan Jones.
Voice coach: Catherine Weate.