reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 7 November
The time of goodwill to all? Not if you’re planning to spend Christmas with Bernard and Phyllis. Ayckbourn’s wry look at the stresses marriage and parenthood impose when a miscellany of relations comes together doubles as cautionary tale and brutal farce.
Incompetent pacifist doctor Bernard, obsessed with his dire puppet-show for the house-party’s children, starts the festivities off by being at odds with Harvey, his wife Phyllis’ bellicose ex-service uncle over violence in films.
Phyllis drinks too much. Much too much. Her brother Neville is one of those men who tinker endlessly, preferably with other people’s gadgets. His wife Belinda is simply frustrated with life and love (what there is of it).
Enduring yet another pregnancy is Pattie; Eddie her husband is a gormandising layabout more concerned with cadging a job from Richard Munday’s somewhat blinkered Neville than taking his fair share of child-rearing.
And then there’s Rachel, Pattie’s intense and somewhat odd sister. She’s invited Clive, a would-be writer on whom she’s become fixated, as her guest. When he finally appears, he becomes the catalyst for what ensues.
You get the picture. Catherine Lomax’s production keeps the action on the move with a wide set that gives us hall and stairs, the living-room and dining-room. Victoria Fitz-Gerald’s Belinda and Lewis Collier’s Clive make a good central couple.
It is the misfits in the several households who really grab our attention. Paul Lavers’ militant Harvey is suitably lethal while Adam Shorey blithers away as Bernard. Alice Redmond allows Rachel a proper measure of pathos, even while she irritates.
Natalie Harman’s wine-swigging Phyllis comes into her own with the snakes-and-ladders game as Christmas Day ends. Chris Aukett’s Eddie, devouring anything edible in sight, is another infuriating delight.
As Pattie, Naomi Slights evokes understanding; her future – like her immediate past – is a bleak one. You really don’t want to be invited to join any of these people for an extended break; one evening would probably suffice.
The compliments of the season to you, too.
Four star rating.
Season’s Greetings runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 10 November with matinées on 8 and 10 November.