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A CurtainUp London Review
The play opens with a scene only too familiar as old films are churned out by the television channels and a family member comments on which actor or, more likely, actors are now dead. Most of the audience found this hysterical but I am afraid I am with the late Claire Rayner, agony aunt (though not an actress, she incidentally died in October this year) who finds these family comedies more the stuff of tragedy.
The Bunkers have their usual number of misfits and unhappy marriages. There is Phyllis (Jenna Russell) who imbibes too much in the privacy of the kitchen under the guise of preparing food when all that is getting pickled is herself. We are told that "the leg of lamb looks fresher than the cook!" Harvey (David Troughton) is the security guard who insists on giving the children of peace loving parents things military, such as guns and knives, for Christmas. Mark Gatiss plays Bernard, Phyllis' husband and his puppet show for the children on Boxing Day is always a groan-worthy event. Having introduced last year all forty of Ali Baba's thieves at ten minute intervals, everyone breathes a sigh of relief when they hear that this year's show will be The Three Little Pigs. "Just three?" members of the family ask.
Oliver Chris is the shy writer Clive, the only non family member invited and longed for by 38 year old spinster Rachel (Nicola Walker). Comedienne Catherine Tate is the frustrated Belinda who attempts a torrid, sexual consummation with Clive after everyone is in bed asleep, not allowing for the fearsome remote toy that can switch everything in the room on at random, including the loudest music. Katherine Parkinson a very fine comic actress but never has quite enough to do as the very pregnant Pattie, Eddie's neglected wife.
Rae Smith's sprawling domestic set shows two levels upstairs as well as the ground floor but is too large for a play where the vast majority of the action takes place in the Bunker living room. The sheer expanse seems to detract from what should be an intimate play as you are always aware of the unused space to which your eye frequently strays.
It is true that Ayckbourn's comedies are as much about pain as laughter and character tensions always generate familial schism. However, despite the realism of the portraits and the familiarity of some of Ayckbourn's fine observation, somehow Marianne Elliott's production never tackles the audience's disbelief and convinces us that Season's Greetings is anything other than an onstage farce.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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