Season’s Greetings

Susan Ludbrook (as Belinda) and Alan Liddell (as Clive)

’Season’s Greetings’ is a brilliant scrummy black comedy.

Immensely funny, 16th Ave Theatre’s latest play is a wonderful delight of yuletide disasters. It successfully captures the fraught tension that swirls around people who are reminded why they only come together at Christmas.

The story unfolds slowly at first as the dramatist establishes his characters, but quickly picks up pace, with their bitter frustrated feelings play off against the need to be compulsorily festive and merry. The audience couldn’t contain itself on opening night, as the play was constantly and uproariously amusing. Our schadenfreude- laughing at others’ misery seems awful on retrospect, yet the playwright has so cleverly woven the black comedy that we identify and relate to it through our own remembered moments of relationship awkwardness.

Season’s Greetings is the highly popular 1980 play by British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. It covers about four days in the life of an extended family grappling with their impaired relationships, crushed dreams and generally hopeless expectations for Christmas and each other. Beginning on Christmas Eve, it starts with eight adults trying to have a happy Christmas and failing dismally. Most are oblivious to each other’s dejection and inner unhappiness. And therein lies much of the comedy.

An argument over television violence breaks out between the cantankerous Harvey (played by Peter East) and Bernard the feeble-spirited and incompetent doctor (played by Wayne Gould who directed The Ladykillers earlier this year).

Neville and Eddie are obsessively focused on building remote controlled Christmas tree lights, and all the husbands are mostly ignoring their wives. Belinda, who repeatedly sighs about husband Neville’s lack of attention, gets caught up in dressing the Christmas tree, becoming upset at the new lighting features, bursting with spurts of anger and frustration until Clive, a writer arrives.

Phyllis, Bernard’s lush of a wife spends much of the first scene invisible off stage in the kitchen, creating what seems to be increasingly worrying and hilarious cooking disasters. Played by a delightful Catherine Grieg, Phyllis is wonderfully funny in the snakes and ladder scene, and later slurs her way finally off to bed.

Rachel, played by Jane Waldegrave is emotionally fuddled, trying to express then deny her affections for Clive, while Clive and Belinda are quickly growing affectionate towards each other, with the comedy bearing fruit later in the play thanks mostly to a mechanical toy under the Christmas tree.

Bernard, obsessed with putting on a dismal puppet show for the children, is assisted by Eddie’s wife, the pregnant Pattie, who is otherwise largely ignored by her husband, resorting to nagging him as she despairs about having another child. The talented Michelle Parnell joined the cast of Season’s Greetings close to the opening night and filled out the role of Pattie with gifted proficiency, bringing in a solid performance.

The audience empathizes with each victim, who seem to end up in as much of a disastrous outcome as Bernard’s dreadful puppet production. The victim’s suffering becomes trivialised as we then identify with the victimizer. Bernard shouts at the helpful Pattie who breaks down in tears. Harvey on seizing the puppets after only two of the sixteen scenes, enrages Bernard. Clive tries to sneak off first thing in the morning, but Harvey shoots him, mistaking him for a burglar. Bernard, the incompetent doctor incorrectly pronounces him dead. And Christmas cheer for the sake of the kids, mixes with all the feelings we secretly dread about being in chummy close proximity with our families.

Please go see this, it’s just wonderful, with superb set design by Alf Holst and his team, and directed by the experienced Julie Lankshear. The play is a pleasure and vastly enjoyable, with a half time intermission to partake of refreshments.