Once a year family gatherings. Laughter and reminiscences, food and drink (perhaps too much of both), gifts for adults and children (sometimes thoughtful, sometimes inappropriate), classic films on television, brisk walks in the winter sunshine… What could possibly spoil yet another perfect Christmas?
Plenty, is the short answer. Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings shows us grown-ups having just as many tantrums as over-excited children. The extended family, plus an invited outsider, which we meet over the four-day holiday on the surface is a fairly normal professional one. Except, of course (this being Ayckbourn in a particularly delicate scalpel-wielding vein), there are misunderstandings and frustrations a-plenty festering under the skin.
An excellent cast is directed with forensic precision by Robin Herford. Veterans Christopher Timothy as Bernard, the inept doctor whose puppet theatre is designed to put any child off marionettes for life, and Denis Lill as Harvey, the ex-security guard with a knife-and-gun fixation, are both outstanding. So is Sue Wallace as Phyllis, Bernard’s wife over-compensating for a marriage which was probably on the rocks before it had even launched.
The house belongs to Belinda and Neville, she a wife and mother who wants excitement as well as comfort and he a successful retailer with a passion for fixing things – usually at the wrong time. Glynis Barber strikes sparks from every line of her dialogue as Belinda while Mark Healy makes you want to give Neville a good shaking, and then another.
Weaving in and out of the couple’s hospitable orbit are Neville’s former partner Eddie (Ricky Groves) and his pregnant wife Pattie (Barbara Drennan) Theirs is a marriage shored up (just) by dependence and Ayckbourn lets us glimpse its likely outcome as Belinda lets slip something about Neville’s job offer to the friend whose attempt to “go it alone” hasn’t worked.
Belinda’s sister Rachel, a floundering family minnow, has invited author Clive, with whom she has a relationship which you can’t describe as being unstuck because it never really had a chance to become sticky in the first place. Jenny Funnell makes Rachel sad as well as funny. You can see why Matthew Bose’s Clive will climb, one way or another, up the ladder of publishing and why Rachel’s future is likely to slither down one of life’s snakes.